Government proposes new regulations for oil drillers as 5-year anniversary of Gulf spill nears

Energy Associated Press

The Obama administration proposed new regulations Monday aimed at ensuring offshore wells are sealed in an emergency, as the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill nears.

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The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and spill on April 20, 2010, resulted in as much as 172 million gallons of oil dumping into the Gulf of Mexico. The latest proposal deals more with equipment than two previous regulations offered by the Interior Department.

Federal safety investigators blamed a faulty blowout preventer for the spill and called for stronger regulations to prevent oil and gas from rushing to the surface and triggering a spill. A blowout preventer contains equipment called a shear ram that cuts through the drill pipe and allows for sealing the well. But during the Deepwater Horizon spill, the equipment failed to make a clean cut.

The proposed rule would require wells to have two shear rams to better ensure a seal. The redundancy is already an industry standard. The rule also requires an annual review of maintenance and repair records by government-approved inspectors, as well as providing the government with access to on-shore monitoring operations that oil and gas drillers use to watch operations from afar.

Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said the rule was needed to allow regulation to keep up with quickly evolving technologies. She said the complicated nature of the equipment contributed to the time it took to devise the proposal.

"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.

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Industry officials said they would be reviewing the proposed regulation, but emphasized that companies have already taken steps to strengthen blowout preventers.

"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.