The decision won immediate praise from an offshore drilling group, but environmentalists said it would increase the risk of future disasters.
The changes, which will take effect
A 48-page notice from the
An offshore drilling industry group said it's a positive step.
"The revisions develop a rule that reduces unnecessary burdens placed on industry, while still maintaining world-class safety and environmental protections. We have a rule that is not a safety rollback, but instead incorporates modern technological advances,"
The group objected most strongly to dropping a requirement for third-party inspections of offshore drilling safety equipment — something oceans program director
The new rules replace that with design testing and documentation by the operator, with independent review and certification if a device is moved to a different location.
"In a time when there is this tremendous push to expand offshore oil and gas drilling, if anything we need to be tightening up regulations and making it safer rather than rolling back regulations for industry safety," she said in a phone interview.
"We've seen in the past that just allowing the industry to regulate itself is not an effective way to prevent oil spills and protect the safety of workers," she continued. "So it's important to have the third-party oversight."
The agency, often referred to by the initials BSEE, said it is keeping "multiple layers of review to ensure safety and environmental protection in the design, installation and testing" of safety systems.
"BSEE expects those procedural changes will continue to ensure safety and environmental protection, especially because of the other, more substantive, regulatory requirements applicable to safety equipment design, function, maintenance, and testing that are being retained or enhanced," it said in a response to comments made to its original proposal last year.
The agency said those include requiring most types of safety and pollution prevention equipment to be independently "design-tested" against detailed testing criteria, and requiring such equipment to be made and marked under a quality assurance program meeting standards approved by the agency.