Government Reinstates Blowout and Spill Planning in Gulf For New Wells

New policy still doesn't cover older, shallower offshore wells


David Guest, Earthjustice, (850) 681-0031, ext. 103
Robert Wiygul, Waltzer & Wiygul, (228) 990-1228
Joel Waltzer, Waltzer & Wiygul, (504) 430-0844
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528, ext. 202
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5619

On Friday, the Department of Interior closed a loophole that had allowed oil drilling to proceed in the Gulf of Mexico without adequate safeguards for blowouts like the Deepwater Horizon. This action came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club in May against the U.S. Minerals Management Service for exempting oil companies drilling in the Gulf from disclosing blowout scenarios and ensuring that they have the capacity to respond to them. The groups are represented by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, and the New Orleans law firm of Waltzer & Wiygul. 

“We are dealing with an environmental catastrophe that most likely could have been prevented if the rules hadn’t been bent,” said Cynthia Sarthou of the Gulf Restoration Network. “We are comforted that this loophole will be closed for future drilling in the Gulf.”

By law, oil companies are required to include blowout scenarios and discussions of oil spill response capabilities in offshore drilling plans. But in April of 2008 MMS  issued a notice to oil companies telling them that they didn’t have to comply with the blowout disclosure and preparation requirements. The BP Deepwater Horizon rig and many dozens of other deepwater exploration plans all lack this essential planning. 

Although MMS has now invalidated the waiver for future drilling plans and for deepwater drilling that is subject to the moratorium, there are potentially thousands of other offshore wells that continue to pump oil without blowout scenarios and oil spill response plans. The fishermen and conservation lawsuit will continue to challenge this lack of planning. 

“MMS is starting to do its job and hold offshore drilling in the Gulf to laws that can prevent disasters like the BP spill,” said Robert Wiygul, an environmental lawyer involved in the lawsuit.

“Given what we now know about blowout risks and inadequate capabilities to contain a worst case oil spill, MMS must require all offshore drilling plans to comply with blowout prevention and cleanup requirements,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. 

“We’ve now seen the disastrous consequences of lax oversight of the oil industry. BP didn’t take the risk of a blowout seriously, and unfortunately, the MMS didn’t ask them to,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “It’s encouraging to see the federal government finally close these outrageous loopholes and begin to stand up to the oil industry.”  

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