Florida

Buchanan, Nelson criticize Trump administration rollback of offshore drilling regulations

An off shore oil rig located about 120 miles southeast of New Orleans, operated by Chevron and Marathon, shown on Dec. 16, 2005.
An off shore oil rig located about 120 miles southeast of New Orleans, operated by Chevron and Marathon, shown on Dec. 16, 2005. Kuni Takahashi/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Florida lawmakers issued statements Friday opposing the Trump administration's decision to roll back parts of an offshore drilling safety regulation that was put into place in response to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, denounced the administration's announcement Friday.

"Any undermining of these safety protocols is reckless and unacceptable," Buchanan said. “Have we learned nothing from the worst environmental disaster in American history? These safeguards should remain in place.”

Buchanan led a bipartisan group of 21 Florida lawmakers who sent a letter in January to the administration opposing any rollback of oil rig safety regulations.

Buchanan is a longtime opponent of allowing drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast and has introduced legislation to protect the state's coastlines from oil spills. The Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act, Buchanan says, would extend by five years a ban on oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast until 2027. The current moratorium, which prohibits oil drilling within 125 miles off most of Florida’s Gulf Coast, is set to expire on June 30, 2022.

Buchanan's statements were echoed by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who filed legislation last week to make the rule law and prevent the administration from rolling it back.

"This administration wants to turn a blind eye to history just to help their friends in the oil industry,” Nelson said in a statement. “We can’t let that happen. These rules were put in place to prevent another massive oil spill off our coasts. We can't allow this new administration to take us backwards in time and, once again, expose Florida’s beautiful beaches and tourism-based economy to such an unnecessary risk.”

The rule, called the "Well Control Rule," was put into place in 2016 and was the centerpiece of the Obama administration's response to the disaster.

The rule focuses on the standard for blowout preventers. The changes would amend or delete multiple provisions of the rule, including eliminating the requirement to certify third parties that inspect drilling safety equipment.

But the rewrite, oil and natural as groups say, are technical changes sought by the industry and are modest and meant to align with industry standards.

The announcement comes a week after the eighth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a blowout preventer broke at the bottom of the sea, releasing nearly 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killing 11 workers.

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