Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 14, 2016

Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467,

Obama Administration's Weak New Offshore-drilling Rules Fail to Protect Oceans, Climate

WASHINGTON— Nearly six years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded and gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months, the largest oil spill in U.S. waters, the Obama administration today announced new rules for offshore oil and gas operations. The rules focus on standards for blowout preventers and largely adopt what is already common industry practice; they do not go nearly far enough to protect oceans, wildlife or climate from the risks of offshore drilling.  

“These rules green-wash offshore oil and gas operations and do little to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster or protect our climate,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Offshore drilling is inherently dangerous, and the only way to truly minimize the risks is to stop allowing this dangerous practice altogether.”

Blowout preventers are devices used to monitor and seal oil and gas wells when operations go awry. Federal investigators cite a defective blowout preventer as one of the causes of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which spewed nearly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf as regulators and the public watched helplessly. A number of recent studies highlight the ongoing environmental harms from the spill, including severe lung disease in dolphins, near-record lows of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nesting, oil dispersants that are toxic to corals, and a “bathtub ring” of oil on the seafloor. Meanwhile the climate crisis is deepening, with 2015 being the hottest year on record by far. 

The new rules require that subsea blowout preventers have two blind shear rams, which are used to cut through drill pipe to help ensure the well will be sealed, the second one a redundant system. But the rules fail to require the use of two blind shear rams on other blowout preventers, such as on certain existing floating drilling units, or those that are currently in construction. The administration admits the new rules don’t make the blowout preventers completely fail-safe, and it has given the industry up to five to seven years to comply with many of the requirements. Other changes sought by industry are presented as safety improvements, such as cutting the frequency of pressure-testing in half.  

The rules also wholly fail to address systemic problems that led to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. For example, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling — established by President Obama in response to the spill — cited a systemic breakdown in the environmental-review process for oil and gas activities as another major problem, calling for significant revisions. But meaningful changes have so far been lacking. Instead the administration continues to rubber-stamp drilling activities with no real review. 

“Rather than looking for new ways to allow oil companies to keep sucking more and more oil from below the seafloor, the Obama administration should focus on promoting clean, sustainable energy and keeping dirty fossil fuels in the ground,” Monsell said. “We can’t keep treating the Gulf as a sacrifice zone.”

Today’s rules come about a month after the administration released a proposed plan to allow expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico from 2017-2022.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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