Eight Years After Deepwater Horizon

It has been eight years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, killing eleven men and unleashing an 87 day-long torrent of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. National Wildlife Federation has taken an active role in Gulf recovery, advocating for science-based decision-making to benefit wildlife and their habitats as Gulf leaders invest recovery funds into restoration.

While there are still decades of recovery ahead, significant strides have been made over the last eight years to restore the Gulf for coastal communities and wildlife. As we reflect on the lives lost and the damage wrought, we should also consider how we can prevent a similar disaster from happening in the future.

The ongoing success in the restoration effort to date does not mean that all is well in the Gulf. Unfortunately, the current Administration is taking several separate actions that collectively increase the likelihood of another oil disaster—in the Gulf or elsewhere.

A juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is checked for oil in 2010. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a bipartisan presidential commission was tasked with evaluating what went wrong and developing recommendations for regulatory solutions to prevent future oil spills. As a result, several new safety measures were put in place, including the Production Safety Systems rules and the Well Control Rule. These measures were designed to increase worker safety, improve well design, and ensure corporate responsibility.

While these rules weren’t perfect, National Wildlife Federation supported the measures that would reduce the likelihood of future spills. The enacted reforms were a strong response to the human and ecological tragedy that befell not just the Gulf region, but the nation as a whole.

The current Administration is moving to effectively reduce the safety requirements for offshore drilling by revising these rules enacted in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The Production Safety Systems rules require that a qualified independent third party certify that equipment on the rig will function as designed, and that certain documents be approved by a professional engineer. Earlier this year, The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement proposed to scrap these requirements. National Wildlife Federation submitted comments in opposition of the changes.

Similarly, the Well Control Rule established minimum requirements for blowout preventers, a key device that malfunctioned on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The changes to this rule are expected in the coming months, and there will be an opportunity for the public to respond during a comment period.

Repealing these safety requirements would play Russian roulette with the lives of oil rig workers and with the health of our oceans.

At the same time that it is contemplating major rollbacks of common-sense drilling safety measures, the Administration also seeks to open nearly all of America’s coastal waters to offshore drilling—over the objections of the governors in almost all of the states that would be impacted.

For the next 15 years, BP will pay out more than $20 billion for its role in the 2010 oil disaster, countless federal and state employees will spend their careers trying to reverse the environmental damage, and the impacted families will never forget their loved ones lost. Although the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement suggests that the changes to the Production Safety Systems rules will reduce industry compliance burdens by $228 million over 10 years, this is only a drop in the bucket compared to the financial, ecological, and long-lasting damage one spill can trigger.

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