Washington, D.C. April 20, 2020 – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today released a report looking at the Trump administration’s regulatory failures and rollbacks in light of the 10-year anniversary of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Among other findings, the report – available at https://bit.ly/3eCQD4U – highlights the financial, environmental, and worker safety standards the Trump administration has weakened on behalf of offshore oil drillers, despite expert advice, and reveals potentially unethical conduct by a former high-ranking Department of the Interior (DOI) political appointee.
A one-pager highlighting major conclusions and newly available information is available at https://bit.ly/3eBBBMU.
The report, titled HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING?, lays out a number of recent regulatory rollbacks and administrative measures that directly contradict the recommendations of several expert panels formed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
- Weakening key parts of the Well Control Rule, a major regulation enacted in 2016 to increase drilling safety, and the Production Safety Systems Rule, a regulation designed to increase safety during oil and gas production;
- Relaxing offshore inspections and enforcement;
- Abandoning attempts to hold offshore contractors directly accountable for their safety and environmental performance;
- Moving to open billions of acres of public waters to new offshore drilling;
- Halting efforts to ensure that offshore companies pay for the full cost of removing their obsolete infrastructure from our oceans;
- Lowering royalty rates on shallow water drilling in order to increase industry profits; and
- Weakening the ability to hold oil and gas companies accountable under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The report lays out in more detail how each move has increased the risk of another disastrous oil spill in American waters.
It also details the unusual actions of Vincent DeVito, former counselor for energy policy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Phone records the Committee has reviewed show that Mr. DeVito and Scott Angelle, head of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, were in frequent contact over a yearlong period with representatives of the Gulf Energy Alliance (GEA), a consortium of offshore drillers in the Gulf of Mexico, up until the time Mr. DeVito left the administration to take a position with Cox Oil, a Gulf operator that had just recently acquired a distressed competitor called Energy XXI – a founding member of the GEA.
Circumstantial evidence suggests there may have been coordination between Mr. DeVito, Director Angelle, Energy XXI, and Cox Oil Offshore that resulted in weakening financial assurance regulations and strengthening Energy XXI as an acquisition target, ultimately leading to Mr. DeVito’s subsequent employment with Cox Oil.
“The Trump administration is happy to risk human lives to pursue its pro-polluter, anti-environment agenda, and it’s only a matter of time before the country pays another terrible price,” Grijalva said today. “Oil spills are signs that our regulatory systems have failed and the way we do business isn’t safe. Ignoring those lessons and aggressively weakening health, safety and financial laws to make life easier for fossil fuel corporations is greedy and careless. That’s exactly what our country has come to expect from President Trump, and he continues to confirm our worst fears every chance he gets.”
“A decade after the worst oil disaster the United States has ever experienced, we should be conducting operations more safely and securely than ever, assured that every effort is being done to minimize the health and environmental risks of a similar disaster in the future,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. “Sadly, the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing a deregulatory agenda, rolling back important protections included in the Well Control Rule and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, that make a similar disaster distinctly more likely and much harder to recover from.”
Ten years after BP spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf, local communities are still suffering from public health impacts and recovering from the destruction of the coastal and marine environment. Statements from several impacted community leaders are included below.
Cory Sparks – Pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in New Orleans; Chair of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference’s Commission on Stewardship of the Environment
The Deepwater Horizon disaster taught us in Louisiana that we have to come to terms with the dangers of drilling for oil. For years we’ve said we’re a working coast that brings oil and seafood to the country. Then the nightmare happened, and we saw that we have to take precautions to keep both industries safe and preserve our wetlands. No more room for rationalizations.
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My daughter is a high school junior now. She’ll never forget taking a second-grade field trip to see tar cleaned off birds. She knows people that work in the oil industry. But she recognizes that we need to find a way to make a living without killing ourselves and our environment. I worry that the country has lost that perspective. It’s easy to forget the Gulf coast. Simpler to pretend we can keep business as usual and let coastal communities die.
Jennifer Crosslin, Regional Organizer in Mississippi and Alabama with the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy
The BP Oil Drilling Disaster in 2010 killed 11 oil rig workers and released more than 130 million gallons of oil into fragile marine ecosystems in two countries. Tens of thousands of seafood harvesters, tourism companies, and hospitality workers were out of work for years and many never recovered. The oil drilling disaster also had direct health impacts on cleanup crews and Gulf residents namely from the use of toxic chemical dispersants. Gulf South communities now know that the oil from the spill reached further than we were told and that the damage is far worse than expected. And despite the damage done, Gulf Coast communities are no safer now than we were 10 years ago.
Riki Ott, PhD – Marine toxicologist; directs The ALERT Project and is currently suing EPA over failure to finalize rules governing dispersant use www.alertproject.org
April 20, 2010, was the end for 11 men on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. It was also the beginning of a decade (and counting) of illnesses and cancers for hundreds of thousands of coastal residents. Both tragedies were preventable. Fixing the whole mess before the next big spill requires different parts of government to each fix their part. On one hand, the Interior Dept. conducts offshore leases in ever deeper waters, while simultaneously revoking safety rules – and instigating subsea use of toxic dispersants without any public process or science. On another hand, the Environmental Protection Agency last updated the National Contingency Plan for oil spill response 26 years ago – it’s outdated, unsafe and it endangers lives.
The public faces increased risk of spills and increased risk of harm from spill response.
It’s time for the people to tie these two hands of government together. No offshore drilling without updating the entire National Contingency Plan with 21st-century science and technology. No offshore drilling without a financial commitment to train and prepare local emergency planning committees of municipalities and Tribes, and Citizens’ Advisory Councils or Groups, for the next oil spill. Congress – do your part.