Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Rules and Guidance

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule please email us.

Why it Matters

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued rules and guidance to fill glaring regulatory gaps in emergency response and operational oversight. Meanwhile, President Obama removed certain areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas development, because of i) their proximity to productive fisheries, ii) their ecological value, or iii) their being too remote and rugged to support a proper response to spills and other accidents. (The outer continental shelf or OCS consists of “all submerged lands lying seaward of state coastal waters…under U.S. jurisdiction”.) Rolling back these rules and designations increases risks both to offshore oil worker safety and to the economic value of US oceans and coastal areas unrelated to oil and gas development as well as the ecological well-being of those areas.

Current Status

On December 29, 2017 the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement published a proposal to revise or rescind offshore drilling safety requirements. The proposal takes aim at rules that were crafted to prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

On January 4, 2018 the Department of Interior proposed a 5-year leasing plan, opening most US coastal waters to oil and gas drillingOn March 5, 2018 227 state legislators sent Secretary Zinke a letter opposing the 5 year proposal.

History

On April 5, 2016 The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) / DOI proposed an offshore air quality rule.

On April 26, 2016 The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) / DOI finalized a rule to enhance blowout preventer and well control requirements, including well design, casing, cementing, and monitoring upgrades.

In July, 2016 Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) / National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized guidance on acoustic thresholds for underwater activity, to lessen the impact of offshore development on marine mammals.

On July 15, 2016 BSEE / BOEM / DOI finalized a rule to govern offshore Arctic drilling.

On September, 12, 2016 BOEM / DOI issued a Notice to Lessees and Operators on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), to consider increasing financial security to meet decommissioning costs.

On December 20, 2016, President Obama withdrew 3.8 million acres of OCS oil and gas development in the Atlantic, and 115 million acres in the Arctic. All told, President Obama protected 125 million acres of the Arctic offshore.

Trump Era

President Trump signed an Executive Order on April 28, 2017 to “encourage energy exploration and production” on the OCS. It directed Interior to consider lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Cook Inlet, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South Atlantic, areas not yet open to oil and gas development. Commerce was barred from designating or expanding a National Marine Sanctuary without a full report by Interior about the energy potential of the area. Commerce must review all Marine National Monuments and Sanctuaries designated or expanded since 2007, with a final report in 180 days.

The Order modified the Withdrawal of Areas of the OCS from Leasing issued by President Obama to limit withdrawal to those areas designated as Marine Sanctuaries as of July 14, 2008.

The Order also directed DOI to reconsider the April 2016 proposed air rule, the April 2016 well control rule, the July 2016 offshore Arctic drilling rule, and the September 2016 decommissioning notice, and directed NOAA to reconsider the July, 2016 guidance on acoustic thresholds.

On July 3, 2017 BOEM / DOI published notice of the start of a public comment period for the expanded Leasing program; comment period ended August 17, 2017.

On June 22, 2017 BOEM / DOI published notice of the start of a public comment period with no deadline for a host of regulatory reform efforts, including review of the offshore well control rule (and others in the entries above). Click here to submit comments on the regulatory reform notice. This comment period is indefinite.

On December 29, 2017 the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement published a proposal to revise or rescind offshore drilling safety requirements. The proposal takes aim at rules that were crafted to prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

On January 4, 2018 the Department of Interior proposed a 5-year leasing plan, opening most US coastal waters to oil and gas drilling

On January 9, 2018 Interior Secretary Zinke said Florida would be off limits because “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

On January 19, 2018 the acting Bureau of Ocean Energy Management head said no formal decision had been made to exclude Florida from new offshore oil and gas drilling.

On March 5, 2018 227 state legislators sent Secretary Zinke a letter opposing the 5 year proposal.

For More Information

For more on these rules see the entry in the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law’s database. Also see Sabin’s Climate Deregulation Tracker for additional updates.

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