During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Karine Jean-Pierre tried to brag about gas prices coming down no less than five times while insisting that there was “more work to be done” and Joe Biden was on top of the problem. That claim seems to come in stark contrast to a different announcement coming out of the Biden administration on the same day. The Interior Department announced yesterday that there will be some changes coming to regulatory policies affecting oil and gas drilling both offshore and on federal lands. If your first guess was to say that these changes won’t be making energy any cheaper, give yourself a cookie. These changes will do the opposite, rolling back new policies implemented under Donald Trump that made the permitting and drilling process less cumbersome. (The Hill)
The Biden administration on Monday proposed to strengthen certain safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling that were loosened under the Trump administration.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that killed 11 workers and released 134 million gallons of fuel into the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration implemented new safety regulations.
In 2019, the Trump administration revised those standards, making them more industry-friendly.
On Monday, the Interior Department indicated that it would further tweak the rules, although the new proposal does not appear to be identical to what was put forth during the Obama years.
The Interior Department is heralding these changes as a way to make the working environment on the drilling rigs safer for the workers. But there has been no evidence offered to suggest that workplace injuries or mishaps increased under Trump’s policies.
Under the new policies, any safety equipment failures will have to be reported more quickly than they are at present. Also, the reports will now need to be sent directly to a bureaucrat in the federal government instead of the third-party industry safety experts who currently collect them and compile reports for the government. This decreased timeline will give drilling companies less time to conduct inspections to determine the cause of safety equipment failures and divert more resources to those efforts. The Interior Department’s estimates admit that the changes will cost millions of dollars to the affected energy companies.
The announcement also included the release of a revised offshore drilling plan. At first glance, the plan looks encouraging, saying that the department “could enable as many as 11 new opportunities to drill for oil and gas offshore.” But the word “could” and the phrase “as many as” are doing a lot of heavy lifting here. As the analysis from The Hill points out, the department “could also pursue fewer or no lease sales in the coming years.” So they are announcing new offshore drilling leases while simultaneously reserving the right to hold zero new lease sales. That’s just sheer brilliance, isn’t it?
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit drilling sites both on land and offshore. This has given me the chance to meet and speak to some of the “bulls” that work on these rigs. In terms of safety, modern drilling rigs are just about as safe as energy companies can make them. But the fact is that drilling is hard work and some aspects of it are potentially dangerous and there’s just no getting around that. This is one of the reasons that jobs on drilling rigs pay so well and it takes a certain type of personality to pursue a career in that field. And none of the changes being implemented here appear to make it any safer.
The bottom line is that the Interior Department is making it more expensive to drill for oil and natural gas at the same time that the White House is trying to take credit for gas prices beginning to creep back down. And those cost increases will not simply be absorbed by the industry. They will eventually show up at the gas pump. This move by the Biden administration is a sleight of hand trick and more people in the media should be calling them out over it.