June 11, 2019 / 4:04 PM / 13 days ago

Green groups sue Trump administration for gutting offshore oil safety rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Interior Department’s rollbacks of safety measures put in place by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the fatal 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The lawsuit filed in a federal district court in California alleges that the agency disregarded the evidence and expert findings that underpinned the 2016 Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule when it revised and repealed those safety measures, and was not transparent when drafting the replacement.

The oil and gas industry has pressed for changes to what they regard as burdensome performance standards for blowout preventers, or safety valves designed to automatically seal a well in the event of a blowout. The rule also called for real-time monitoring, third-party reviews of equipment, regular inspections and safe drilling margin requirements.

The groups, including Earthjustice and the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the agency failed to weigh how the rollbacks could harm offshore safety and the environment, especially as it considers opening up the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts to drilling.

“Removing airbags and seatbelts from cars doesn’t make them safer. Likewise, erasing the safety rules put in place after Deepwater Horizon makes risky offshore drilling more dangerous,” said Catherine Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The BP Macondo well blowout and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010 killed 11 workers and cost billions of dollars for Gulf Coast restoration.

The Obama administration had created a task force to examine causes of the accident whose findings were reflected in the formulation of the 2016 rules.

Last month, the Trump administration unveiled its final plan to repeal several of those measures. The changes were projected to save oil and gas drillers at least $1 billion over 10 years, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman.

The environmental groups said that eliminating standards for critical safety components, equipment inspection, and well monitoring would put in place a self-regulation system similar to the one that existed when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred.

They said the Interior Department also violated the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete a comprehensive impact study before revising the rules and instead determining that the rollback would have “no significant impact.”

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Chang

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