WASHINGTON (AP) — A week shy of the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Obama administration proposed new regulations Monday aimed at strengthening oversight of offshore oil drilling equipment and ensuring that out-of-control wells can be sealed in an emergency.
The explosion of the Deepwater rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people and dumped as many as 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Federal safety investigators blamed a faulty blowout preventer for the spill and called for stronger regulations of the equipment that prevents oil and gas from rushing to the surface and triggering a spill.
The proposed rule would require that blowout preventers in wells have two shear rams, which cut through the drill pipe and allow the well to be sealed in an emergency. In the Deepwater Horizon spill, a single shear ram failed to operate properly.
The redundancy is already an industry standard. The rule also requires an annual review of maintenance and repair records by government-approved inspectors.
Many offshore drillers already have the capability to monitor from afar their drilling operations. The regulation would require that government workers have access to those facilities when necessary.
Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said the rule was needed to allow regulation to keep up with quickly evolving technology.
"Those things take time and we want to make sure that when we come out with a regulation like this it's been done very thoughtfully in consultation with a lot of different parties," Jewell said during a conference call.
Industry officials said they would be reviewing the proposed regulation, which is estimated to cost about $880 million over 10 years, but emphasized that companies have already taken steps to prevent future spills.
"Our industry is committed to meeting the nation's energy needs while maintaining safe and environmentally responsible operations," said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute.
The rule didn't go as far as some had anticipated.
The department said it would request comments on whether to require additional sheering capability that would ensure the equipment could cut through anything, such as debris around the pipe.
"We went back and forth on that," said Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. "We decided to put that out there as a question and to specifically seek comment on whether that is a realistic requirement and whether it's achievable."
There was little immediate pushback to the 264-page proposal from individual oil and gas companies, or from Republican lawmakers who have regularly criticized the administration of regulatory overreach.
"Before the critics start their predictable calls of 'burdensome' and 'unnecessary,' they should think about the ongoing costs of the spill," Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva said in a press release. Grijalva is the ranking Democratic member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal before it is finalized. Other steps that have been taken over the years to improve safety include increasing the number of inspectors in the Gulf from 55 in April 2010 to 92 currently and requiring that government inspectors observe testing of blowout preventers before drilling can commence.
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