As Offshore Regulations Decrease, Analysts Predict Offshore Injuries Have Increased by 21 Percent
According to a recent report from NOLA.com, offshore oil and gas accidents and deaths have spiked after the Trump administration rolled back regulations on the industry. Many were worried about the safety of offshore workers since the day the administration announced the rollbacks. Last year, we reported that safety advocate groups were concerned that that the administration was rolling back industry regulations to pre-Deepwater Horizon levels.
How Have Offshore Accidents Changed from Regulation Rollbacks?
While the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) hasn't released data for offshore accidents in 2019, some groups are already predicting increased accident and fatality numbers. The Center for American Progress has examined the agency's budget documents and believes it's determined the number of injuries per hour worked in offshore oil and gas facilities. They've found an increase of 21 percent.
"At worst, this is an unraveling of safety gains made after Deepwater Horizon," said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at American Progress.
As we've discussed in the past, the current administration rolled back aspects of the Well Control Rule. This policy addressed critical offshore risks—ones that could have prevented BP's devastating 2010 Gulf disaster had they existed at the time. Since the Well Control Rule was introduced in 2015, offshore injuries trended downward. However, since 2018, analysts note a sharp uptick in accidents.
Offshore Injuries & Fatalities Have Spiked in 2019
Notably, accidents decreased between 2019 and 2018. Yet, the rate of injury seems to show that accidents, though scarcer, have been a lot more harmful to workers. In other words, the rollback has undone the safety improvements supporters of the Well Control Rule wanted to see.
According to NOLA.com, an examination of local media reports reveal that offshore accidents aren't just causing more injuries—they're causing more deaths. According to The Times-Picayune, at least 8 percent of 2019 offshore injuries were fatal. In other words, the number of offshore fatalities in 2019 has exceeded the amount that happened from 2014 to 2017 combined.
What Changed to Allow More Offshore Injuries?
The current administration altered requirements the Well Control Rule previously placed for real-time monitoring of offshore operations by engineers working onshore. They also extended the date of compliance for new safety regulations on blowout preventers. Finally, officials made it easier for companies to obtain waivers for meeting a "safe drilling margin," a defined amount of pressure companies must follow to minimize the risk of a blowout.
Drilling companies aren't just receiving fewer visits from inspectors; they've had a decline in enforcement actions. American Progress found that inspectors made 2,000 fewer visits to offshore sites between 2017 and 2019, a 13-percent drop overall. They've also received 38 percent fewer enforcement actions in the same period. The BSEE accounts for a decreased amount of visits to an increased amount of inspections during what visits they do accomplish. The BSEE is expected to release its official statistics for 2019 by the end of March.
"The safety of our operations, our workers and our community is a top priority for Louisiana's oil and natural gas industry, and thanks to new initiatives and technologies our offshore energy industry has never been safer or stronger," said Tyler Grey, President of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. "Industry standards, modern technology, innovation and experience working under the oversight of state and federal officials have made offshore development safer than it has ever been – and continuously becoming safer because technologies are ever-improving."