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Why it Matters
Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, the Department of the Interior (DOI) underwent a significant reorganization and issued rules and guidance to fill regulatory gaps in emergency response and operational oversight (for more on these changes, see our post on the 10 year anniversary here). President Obama also removed certain areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas development. (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 to offshore oil worker safety and, the non-oil and gas related economic value of oceans and coastal areas, and the ecological well-being of those areas.
The 2016 Blowout Preventer and Well Control Rule (Well Control Rule) consolidated blowout preventer and well control requirements in one place. It incorporated ten newer industry standards and adopted reforms in well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time well monitoring, and subsea containment. It implemented recommendations from various Deepwater Horizon investigations, incorporated guidance from Notices to Lessees, and revised provisions related to drilling, workover, completion, and decommissioning operations. New requirements included those related to system design, performance, and reliability.
Click here to view our page on the EO 13795: Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy and the other changes that have followed the EO. For more information on the reforms that followed the Deepwater Horizon disaster, view our 10-year anniversary post here.
BSEE published the final Revised Well Control Rule in the Federal Register on May 15, 2019. This followed reporting that the Bureau had granted 1,700 waivers to the Well Control Rule. Environmental groups filed suit against BSEE on June 11, 2019, challenging the rollback of the 2016 Well Control Rule.
When President Biden took office on Jan. 20, 2021 he signed EO 13990 that revoked Trump’s EO 13795 and directed all agencies to review and consider revising rules issued during the Trump administration. President Biden’s EO 14008, signed on Jan. 27, 2021, orders a review of the permitting and leasing practices for offshore oil and gas and pauses all new leasing during this time.
April 29, 2016 The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) / DOI finalizes a rule to enhance blowout preventer and well control requirements, including well design, casing, cementing, and monitoring upgrades.
April 28, 2017 Executive Order 13795 directs the Department of Interior to reconsider efforts to limit or regulate offshore oil and gas development, including reconsidering the 2016 Well Control Rule.
May 1, 2017 Secretarial Order 3350 instructed BSEE to review the final Blowout Preventer and Well Control rule and any related guidance and to provide a report within 21 days with recommendations as to whether to suspend, revise, or rescind the rule.
May 11, 2018 BSEE proposes changes to the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control rule issued on April 29, 2016, opening a 60-day comment period that ends on July 10, 2018. BSEE says the proposed rule will “amend, revise, or remove current regulatory provisions that create unnecessary burdens on stakeholders.”
July 5, 2018 BSEE extends the comment period on its May 11 proposed rule until Aug. 6, 2018 and corrects an incorrect address for how to submit the public comments.
May 2, 2019 Interior releases its final revisions to the 2016 Well Control Rule. The rule will become effective sixty days after it is published in the Federal Register.
June 11, 2019 Environmental groups file suit against the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to challenge the rollback of the 2016 Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule. The groups allege that BSEE disregarded the evidence and expert findings that went into the original rule, provided no reasoned explanation for doing so, and did not provide a rational connection between the facts and its choice. They also argued that BSEE failed to provide adequate notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act when incorporating by reference API Bulletin 92L, did not adequately consider environmental effects, and failed to consider how the rollbacks could harm offshore safety. (This case has since been transferred to the Eastern District of Louisiana, Case No. 2:19-cv-13966)
Early Biden Actions
Jan. 20, 2021 President Biden signs EO 13990 that revokes Trump’s EO 13795 and directs all agencies to review and consider revising rules issued during the Trump administration.
Jan. 27, 2021 President Biden’s EO 14008 orders a review of the permitting and leasing practices for offshore oil and gas and pauses all new leasing during this time.