Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

“Albany Times Union: New York Coastal States Oppose Trump Weakening”

January 31, 2018

As published by The Albany Times Union, on January 30, 2018.

New York and five other coastal states are warning the administration of President Donald Trump against weakening oil drilling safety rules while also pushing plans to dramatically expand off-shore drilling.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, along with top state lawyers for Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, wrote this week to the U.S. Interior Department to oppose a roll-back of federal safety rules imposed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“To roll back the very safety protections put in place after Deepwater Horizon is deeply irresponsible – and unlawful,” said Schneiderman. The changes could come at the same time as the Trump administration is proposing oil drilling in the Atlantic for the first time off the coast of New York and other eastern states.

Proposed new rules would relax requirements for oil companies to have backup plans for blowout preventers, which are valves used to prevent oil spills. Also, drilling companies could certify equipment is safe, rather than be required to provide an independent certification.

When the Horizon off-shore rig exploded in 2010, it spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil between April and September, making it the largest marine oil spill in history. Oil fouled more than 1,100 miles of shoreline, and forced the closure of about a third of commercial fishing areas.

A 2010 federal report blamed the explosion and spill on lax regulatory oversight, and cost-cutting by the rig owner BP. The company later paid a $20 billion federal fine. New safety rules were developed and put into place in late 2016.

In December 2017, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement proposed rolling back portions of the new rules, calling them an “undue burden” on industry. The changes could save drillers about $228 million over the next decade, according to the bureau.

This change comes at the same time that President Trump wants to dramatically increase the amount of off-shore oil drilling along U.S. shores, including in the Northeast.

In January, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a draft proposal for such drilling that would have opened up 98 percent of the American coast to drilling; Florida was exempted from the plan after its governor complained.

Part of the federal plan for 2018-2024 proposes the government sale of drilling leases in the Atlantic between Maine and New Jersey; with one lease to be sold in 2021 and a second lease to be sold in 2023. Currently, there is no oil drilling in this region.

Three more off-shore drilling leases would be sold between Delaware and North Carolina in 2020, 2022, and 2024.

According to the federal proposal, the oil and natural gas available in these regions could be worth about $22.6 billion, based on an oil price of $40 a barrel. That total could top $100 billion if the price of oil climbs.

The report also estimated the environmental and social costs of drilling in this part of the Atlantic at about $4 billion. However, those estimates do not include projections for a “catastrophic” oil spill like Deepwater Horizon.

“Given the unpredictable nature of catastrophic oil spills, including the many factors that determine their severity, efforts to quantify their unexpected costs are less meaningful and more uncertain than the other measures considered in (this) analysis. In addition to the difficulty in calculating the cost of the potential impacts of a catastrophic spill, there are similar difficulties in calculating the risk,” according to the drilling proposal.

It likely would take about a decade for off-shore drilling to start. Once started, drilling would likely “continue for another 30 to 40 years or longer,” according to the federal drilling report.