December’s Drilling De-Regulations

By Samuel Diamond

On December 7, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) received a stop-work order from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEEE), suspending a study of the bureau’s offshore oil and gas operations inspection program.

The NASEM study, a “Review and Update of Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Inspection Program” was to last 21 months.

The stop-work order said that within 90 days the BSEEE would make a decision as to whether the study would resume or be terminated.

The committee conducting the study has so far held only one meeting, on October 26-27, according to a statement issued by NASEM on December 21. “Future meetings planned to be held in the Gulf of Mexico region have been put on hold,” the statement continued.

The day after NASEM issued its statement, President Trump signed into law the Tax Reform & Jobs Act. Among its myriad provisions, the sweeping tax legislation lifts a decades-old ban on drilling for oil and gas in the 19.6-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The ban lift applies specifically to the ANWR’s 1.57-million acre coastal plain, known as Section 1002, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimated decades ago may hold up to 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil, and which some experts predict could hold up to 20 billion barrels. (See “Energy Industry Highlights of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.”)

Finally, on December 29, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded a March 2015 rule entitled “Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands,” which would have required drilling companies to reveal the chemicals they used in fracking on government-owned property and Indian Reservations.

“The BLM is rescinding the 2015 rule because we believe it imposes administrative burdens and compliance costs that are not justified,” according to the updated rule summary.

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