ELP Work on Offshore Drilling Policy


Offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico are a major source of oil and natural gas, accounting for roughly 17% and 5% of total U.S. production, respectively. There are also significant reserves of oil and gas off the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts. But as drilling moves into deeper and colder waters, it brings increasing risks, as demonstrated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Shell’s troubled 2012 Arctic drilling season. Debates therefore continue about whether the federal government should open additional areas to drilling.

ELP faculty, staff, and students have been deeply involved in attempts to reform the regulation of offshore drilling. Professor Richard Lazarus was the Executive Director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and principal author of the Commission’s report, Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling. This report identified “such systemic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry” and concluded that fundamental reforms were necessary both in government oversight and in the culture of the industry.

Since 2012, the Emmett Clinic has worked on a multi-semester project to identify specific improvements in the regulation of offshore drilling, with a particular focus on the Arctic. It is the Clinic’s position that rules of general applicability may not be adequately protective of the unique and sensitive Arctic marine environment.

The Clinic’s work has included recommendations on improving oversight, suggested indicators for evaluating and predicting environmental performance of drilling companies, and a white paper about improving access to information collected by federal agencies. It has also submitted comments on a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement policy statement and a Bureau of Ocean Management environmental impact statement. In addition, clinic students have traveled to Washington, DC, to present their work to officials at the Department of Interior and to legislative staff on Capitol Hill.


Public Comments