The 2010 disaster at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and spilled nearly five million barrels of oil. That’s the worst oil spill in American history. After it happened, the Obama administration created new rules for offshore rigs in an effort to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.

But now, those regulations may be revoked. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement recently proposed rolling them back as part of a broader Trump administration initiative to loosen regulation of the energy industry.

Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs, has studied the regulatory response to the disaster.

“If we step back and look at the big picture of how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened, this was a preventable accident,” she says, “and part of why it happened is essentially there were a series of choices where they could have chosen to say, ‘Okay, this isn’t quite working right and we’re going to shut it down.’ And instead, at each decision point, they had pretty good evidence that there was a problem, by their own standards, and yet sort of would redo the tests or interpret the tests in ways that made them keep going.”

With technology rapidly changing, she says finding safety solutions that are good for both the environment and the industry is an ongoing dilemma.

“If you read through the 82 pages of what the Trump administration is proposing, it’s not actually for the most part that different,” she says. “What they’re doing that’s causing more controversy is changing a requirement around independent third-party certification.”

Osofsky says the industry argues that independent third-party certification isn’t cost-effective, so the question on the table is about whether the regulation increases the measure of safety in needed ways.

 

Written by Jen Rice.

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