Saturday, September 22, 2018

Trump administration shuts down study on the safety of offshore drilling

“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.” 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration has issued a stop-work order on an independent study that was attempting to study safety on offshore drilling to make the process safer.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) was ordered by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to halt its study earlier this month.

The study was supposed to review and update BSEE’s offshore oil and gas operations inspection program to enhance safety, which was established after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 people. Last year, the BSEE was heavily criticized for “[continuing] to rely on pre-Deepwater Horizon incident policies and procedures.”

A final decision on canceling the contract will be made within 90 days. In the meantime the BSEE is “paused…to allow time to ensure that there are no duplicate efforts.”

As Jacqueline Savitz, a vice president with the environmental group Oceana, stated to The Time-Picayune, “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.”

This is the second time in the last four months that the Interior Department has cut off funds to the National Academies for a safety study. In August, funding was cut from the Office of Surface Mining for research on the health effects of people in Appalachia living near mining operations.

The Sierra Club believes that the move was to allow for a major push to expand offshore drilling. “I think this is an example of Trump demonstrating he wants to open up federal waters to more drilling at the expense of people on the planet. He is much more supportive of corporate polluters than protecting people’s safety,” says Kelly Martin, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Out Wild America campaign.

NASEM issued the following statement regarding the decision:

“The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to suspend all work on a study to review and update the bureau’s offshore oil and gas operations inspection program to enhance safety.  The stop-work order, dated Dec. 7, says that within 90 days the stop-work order will either be lifted and work on the study can resume, or the contract to perform the study will be terminated.  The committee conducting the study held its first and only meeting (to date) in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26-27.  Future meetings planned to be held in the Gulf of Mexico region have been put on hold.  The National Academies are grateful to the committee members for their service and disappointed that their important study has been stopped.

This is the second National Academies study halted by DOI in the last four months. In August, a study on the potential health effects for people living near surface coal mining sites in Central Appalachia was stopped pending a review of contracts by DOI.  The National Academies have not received any update on the status of that review and the study remains on hold.  Given how important this study is to the citizens and communities surrounding these surface mining sites in Appalachia, the National Academies believe the study should be completed and are exploring options to do so.  Some private donors have expressed an interest in funding the completion of the study.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.”

 

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