When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded in April 2010, it not only immediately killed 11 workers; it also spilled an eventual total of more than three million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That record spill destroyed the fishing and tourism industry in the area for years, and left an environmental scar that’s still visible. It took more than three months to cap the well and staunch the flow.
Following that disaster, President Obama directed the Interior Department to develop new guidelines for oil companies conducting drilling for oil under deep water. Which seems reasonable. But as the Associated Press reports, Donald Trump is “easing” those regulations. As in, removing them.
The Interior Department will give oil companies “flexibility” that allows them to take any approach they want to drilling so long as they maintain safety levels. If that sounds like permission for drilling companies to select their own level of risk and walk away with fat profits—so long as disaster doesn’t hit—it’s because that’s what it is. Reports the AP, “’We’re more open to invention,’ Scott Angelle, a safety regulator at the Interior Department, told the crowd. ‘We tell them what to do,’ he said. ‘How they do it is up to them.’”
Trump has paired this weakening of safety regulations with an expansion of drilling, opening up previously protected areas along both coasts to extensive drilling. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked Trump’s drilling plans in a move that could put the fate of those areas in the hands of Congress.
The White House estimates the reduced safety requirements will save oil companies $1.5 billion. As of 2016, the cleanup costs for the Deepwater Horizon spill totaled $62 billion.