U.S. regulators have finalized new rules governing the safety of offshore oil drilling operations, but environmental groups say the new regulations don’t go far enough to protect oceans from catastrophes such as BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill.
The revised rules issued on Wednesday deal with certain elements of well design and the testing of well cementing and barriers. The rules also require offshore drillers to use independent, third-party inspectors to test and certify that blowout preventers are capable of killing the flow of oil at the well.
The blowout preventer, which is considered the last line of defense against a full-out oil spill, failed to operate as expected when oil and gas shot up from BP’s Macondo well and created a series of deadly explosions on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The blast killed 11 workers and released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP spent three months trying to bring the well back under control before it succeeded.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which issued the new rules, says the changes took into account feedback provided by stakeholders, suggestions from the public, and recommendations from investigations of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Many critics, however, are lashing out at the new rules for being too lax, especially now that oil companies are drilling in deeper and deeper regions of the Gulf and in extreme, remote areas such as the Arctic Ocean, where experts say an oil spill would be nearly impossible to clean up.
“They basically said to the oil industry: ‘Okay, I guess we’re going to have to regulate you,’ and the industry said: ‘Okay, here are some things that won’t hurt too much,'” Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director of Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, told the Associated Press.
Coming on top of “lax inspections and laughably low fines,” the new standards create a “recipe for another spill,” Ms. Savitz added.