05/14/2020 - Regulatory Rollback

BSEE & BOEM’S Exploratory Arctic Drilling Rule

by EELP Staff

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.

On July 15, 2016, BOEM and BSEE jointly finalized new requirements for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off she coast of Alaska. Given the extraordinary challenges of operating in Arctic environments and limited response capabilities available, the agencies determined that additional equipment and operations requirements were necessary to ensure adequate safety and environmental protections. The rule imposed heightened requirements for exploratory drilling operations in the Arctic designed to ensure operators account for local conditions. Rolling back these reforms could endanger fragile Arctic ecosystems.

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.

Current Status

Trump’s April 28, 2017 Executive Order 13795 directed the Department of Interior to review this rule. Interior Secretary Zinke’s May 1, 2017 Secretarial Order 3350 instructed its sub-agencies on how to implement the Executive Order, including ordering a review of this rule. A proposed revised rule is expected in 2020 and was listed in Interior’s Fall 2019 agenda but has not yet been released.


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

Trump Era

April 28, 2017 President Trump signs Executive Order 13795 to “encourage energy exploration and production” on the OCS. The Order directs Interior to reconsider the offshore exploratory Arctic drilling rule.

May 1, 2017 Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3350 instructs BOEM and BSEE to jointly review the July 15, 2016 exploratory Arctic drilling rule and submit a report within 21 days with recommendations as to whether to suspend, revise, or rescind the rule. News about the results of that review has yet to be made public.

Dec. 26, 2019 Interior’s Fall 2019 Regulatory Plan, published in December 2019, listed the exploratory Arctic drilling rule as a priority for the agency in the fiscal year 2020. A draft proposed rule has not yet been sent to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review.