ENVIRONMENT
12/22/2017 07:48 am ET

Trump Administration Abruptly Halts Offshore Drilling Safety Study

Findings were supposed to help prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Trump administration has abruptly cut off funding for studying the safety of offshore drilling, halting a 21-month project to determine the best ways to avoid a repeat of 2010′s devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The study began last year and was supposed to review and update government regulators’ outdated offshore inspection programs to improve safety. 

But the Interior Department notified the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine with a stop work order Dec. 7, and said a decision on canceling the contract would be made within 90 days, the academies said in a statement. The group, chartered by Congress to provide expert scientific advice, includes the National Academy of Sciences.

“One thing we should all be able to agree on is that safety is of paramount importance, so preventing a study like this simply flies in the face of common sense,” Jacqueline Savitz, a vice president with the environmental group Oceana, told The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans.

The order is the second time in four months that the Interior Department has abruptly cut off funds to the National Academies for a safety study. The department’s Office of Surface Mining in August stopped funding for research on health effects of people in Appalachia living near mountaintop mining operations.

“Given how important this study is to the citizens and communities surrounding these surface mining sites ... the National Academies believe the study should be completed and are exploring options,” including obtaining private funding, the academies said in a statement.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will now determine if the offshore drilling research is “duplicating” other efforts, a spokesman told The Hill.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was harshly criticized last year in a report by the Governmental Accountability Office, which said the bureau “continues to rely on pre-Deepwater Horizon incident policies and procedures.”

“The use of outdated investigative policies and procedures is a long-standing deficiency,” the GAO review added.

The bureau said in a Nov. 28 statement that it had approved controversial Arctic oil exploration operations on the outer continental shelf for the first time in more than two years in a push for “American energy dominance.”

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