Oil Rig Regs Are not Enough, Greens Say

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Newly proposed offshore oil “well control” regulations are not enough to stave off disaster, according to conservationists.
     After investigations of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has proposed so-called “well control” regulations.
     In the April 20, 2010 incident, at the bottom of the ocean beneath a floating oil rig, a blowout preventer and other equipment meant to avoid oil spills during offshore drilling operations failed, resulting in the operator’s inability to control what was happening to the well. An explosion, a fire and a months-long oil spill ensued.
     Five years later, the BSEE has proposed regulations designed to improve equipment reliability, and include reforms in well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time well monitoring and subsea containment, according to the proposal.
     “This rule builds on enhanced industry standards for blowout preventers to comprehensively address well design, well control and overall drilling safety,” Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said in a related statement.
     Environmental conservation group the Center for Biological Diversity is not impressed.
     “It’s being used as ‘green washing’ to justify the Obama Administration’s recent proposal to expand oil and gas drilling in the Gulf and in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans,” Kristin Moncell, attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity told Courthouse News.
     The Obama Administration in January announced 14 lease sales in eight planning areas by 2022: 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska, and one in the Atlantic Ocean. Until now offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic has been very limited, Miyoko Sakashita, CBD’s ocean’s director pointed out in an April 17 statement on Obama’s plan.
     “The plan makes available 80 percent of all recoverable offshore oil at a time when deep and rapid cuts in fossil fuel use are needed to halt global warming. Producing and burning ‘recoverable’ oil and gas reserves in the Arctic Ocean has the potential to release 15.8 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere – the equivalent of the emissions from all forms of transportation in the United States over a nine-year period,” Sakashita wrote.
     “The blowout preventer failure was just one of the many problems in the offshore oil regime that led to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. For example, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling – established by President Obama in response to the spill – cited the systemic breakdown in the environmental review process for oil and gas activities as another major problem, and called for significant revisions. But meaningful changes have so far been lacking. Instead, the administration is now rubber-stamping inherently dangerous, harmful practices like offshore fracking with no real review at all,” CBD attorney Kristen Moncell told Courthouse News in an email.
     Plus, the rule allows well operators 10 years to comply, she said.
     The BSEE’s proposed changes would require rigs to use blowout preventers that have technology to center the drill pipe while double shear rams cut it, to increase the likelihood that the drill pipe can be sheared in an emergency, and the well can be capped. Some experts believe that the failure of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer was at least partly due to the pipe not being centered, and a double shear would help provide assurance, according to an agency fact sheet.
     The addition of real-time monitoring would give the rig operator another “set of eyes” during critical operations, and onshore technical expertise, if needed.
     The proposal also adds testing criteria to third-party certification of the shearing capability, the agency fact sheet stating this would make it more rigorous.
     It also calls for all equipment be traceable, and “requires improved controls of all repair and maintenance activities through the lifecycle of the blowout preventer and other well control equipment,” said BSEE Director Brian Salerno.
     The agency also requests comments on “a potential long-term requirement” that a technology be installed that could sever all equipment in the hole, allowing the line to break free easily.
     Comments on the proposed rule are due by June 16.

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