Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Rollbacks of Offshore Drilling Safety Regs

Rollbacks target drilling safeguards designed to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster


Liz Trotter, Earthjustice, (305) 332-5395


Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7137


Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914)261-4626


Jake Bleich, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3208

Ten environmental groups sued the Trump administration today to challenge rollbacks of the 2016 Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule, a safety regulation meant to prevent another blowout like what happened during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The coalition of both local and national groups that filed the lawsuit is composed of Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

The case filed in the Northern District of California challenges key rollbacks to the safety rule including:

  • Weakening performance requirements for blowout preventers
  • Eliminating the system of independent safety equipment inspectors
  • Grandfathering existing drilling rigs into outdated blowout preventer standards
  • Slashing safety equipment testing and inspection standards

This lawsuit is meant to restore the protections put in place after the 2010 BP blowout. The blowout killed 11 men, and resulted in an oil spill that spewed over 130 million gallons of toxic crude into the Gulf, polluting 1,300 miles of shoreline, killing billions of individual species of birds, fish, whales, oysters, and other wildlife decimating the seafood and tourism industries of the Gulf states.

The groups allege that the Department of the Interior disregarded the extensive evidence and expert findings that went into the original rule. They also claim the department failed to consider how the rollbacks could harm offshore safety and the environment, while also violating transparency requirements.

Read the legal document.

The following are statements from the groups:

“These rollbacks are a step back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days when the offshore oil industry largely policed itself to disastrous effect. This attempt to roll the dice with offshore safety not only puts workers and our coasts at risk, but violates the law,” said Chris Eaton, Earthjustice attorney.

“On the Gulf Coast, these safety standards have very real implications for workers, the environment and our coastal economy,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “This administration claims the cost is a ‘burden’ to one of the most profitable industries in the world. That is not a sound justification to rollback these necessary safeguards enacted to prevent another catastrophic blowout like the BP disaster.”

Bob Deans, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The well control rule was one of the most important measures we took, as a nation, to reduce the risk of another BP-style disaster at sea. The 2016 rule enhanced worker safety, the integrity of equipment inspections and the monitoring of critical operations and tests. Weakening those protections to boost industry profits puts our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. We’re fighting to restore these commonsense safeguards and standing up for all they protect.”

“We can’t let the Trump administration make dirty offshore drilling even more dangerous,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By ignoring the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Trump is making the next catastrophic oil spill far more likely. Rolling back safety standards while trying to aggressively expand offshore drilling just boggles the mind. So we’re asking the court to step in to protect workers, wildlife, coastal communities and our climate.”

“The Trump Administration has taken every opportunity to chip away at standards put in place to protect our environment and coastal communities,” said Hallie Templeton, Senior Oceans Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Big Oil’s pursuit of profits have driven Trump’s safety rollback and it is a prime example of why we must remain vigilant to ensure that federal agencies are complying with the law every step of the way.”

“In seeking to eliminate these common-sense standards, the Trump administration is putting workers in harm’s way and threatening coastal communities with another devastating oil spill,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Devorah Ancel. “We will continue to fight back against this unlawful attempt to give the fossil fuel industry free rein to spoil our coasts and public waters.”

“The Trump administration’s dismantling of the safety regulations put in place to prevent another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is improper, imprudent and — most importantly — illegal. This suit is about standing up to the fossil fuel industry on behalf of our invaluable ocean and marine wildlife heritage,” said Jane Davenport, Defenders of Wildlife attorney.

“Removing airbags and seatbelts from cars doesn’t make them safer. Likewise, erasing the safety rules put in place after Deepwater Horizon makes risky offshore drilling more dangerous,” said Catherine Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This Trump administration rollback makes no sense.”

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Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

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