Gulf states are split over whether to support or oppose the Trump administration’s proposed repeal of offshore drilling safety rules established after the historic 2010 BP oil disaster.
On the opposing side is Florida, whose congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Rick Scott have come out in opposition to both the rule rollback and the massive proposed expansion of offshore drilling in federal waters.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., is finalizing a letter opposing the offshore safety rule rollbacks, which he will finalize and begin circulating next week.
“Have we forgotten the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe so soon?” Buchanan said in a statement, referring to the explosion of the oil rig in the Gulf Coast in 2010 that killed 11 people and led to one of the worst oil spills and environmental disasters in U.S. history.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” he added. “It would be a huge mistake to weaken these safety regulations and risk not only lives but catastrophic consequences to our environment. If Secretary Zinke does not reject this rash and reckless proposal, then I will ask Congress to intercede and make the rules permanent.”
Among the proposed changes, the Interior Department would eliminate a provision requiring third-party inspectors of certain safety equipment — such as a blowout preventer device — be certified by its safety bureau. The blowout preventer device broke at the bottom of the sea in the Deepwater Horizon incident, spewing almost 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced on the Senate floor that he will seek to block Trump’s rollback of the safety rules, using the Congressional Review Act.
The resolution gives Congress the ability to block any rule with a simple majority. The catch is that there is a limited window for using it, and the president can veto it.
Scott also opposes any drilling activity that could kill the Sunshine State's tourism industry.
“We are reviewing these rules, but Florida is home to pristine beaches that welcome millions of visitors each year, and the governor does not support offshore drilling which could put that at risk,” said John Tupps, Scott’s communications director.
But on the other side of the Gulf, in refinery-rich Louisiana, the attitude toward Trump’s rollback is the exact opposite.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., supports the administration’s goal of achieving “energy dominance” without sacrificing safety, which would require some changes to the Obama administration’s rules pertaining to offshore energy production, according to his office.
Scalise sees the rules as specifically designed to make it harder, and not necessarily safer, to drill in the Gulf, his office told the Washington Examiner. Scalise supports rule changes that keep high safety standards while not impeding future development.
That’s a position echoed by a senior official in Louisiana representing the fishing industry, which had sued BP in the wake of the 2010 oil disaster that damaged the industry.
Despite the harm caused by the disaster more than seven years ago, Acy Cooper Jr., president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, said he wants offshore drilling to continue in the Gulf.
“We have no problem with offshore drilling, as long as they’re safe in what they do,” Cooper said.
“As long as they are safe and they do the things they supposed to do, we have no problem with it, because we all need fossil fuels," he said. "Even as a vessel owner, I need it to run my vessels. We don’t see an issue with having the drilling; we just see an issue with not following compliance with state and federal regulations. That’s where the problems come in at.”
“Any other time, let them drill, let them do what they need to do, because after the BP spill, they put a hurt on us when the Obama administration stopped the drilling because a lot of fishermen do go to work in the oil fields,” he said.
Cooper said the fishing and oil worker communities are interconnected and support one another. In the fishing off-season, "all the coastal parishes in Louisiana, a lot of them are working in the oil fields," Cooper said.
"We are an oil field community and a fishing community," he said. "If you take the oil field away, they [are] only just relying on the fishing community. And it’s hard to sustain a town like ours ... if you take the businesses out of it." He said restaurants and other businesses floundered during the Obama administration without the work in the oil fields.
“We have no issue with them drilling; we just have the issue with what BP did in not following the regulations,” Cooper said.
He said the BP spill was an exception to how most of the offshore drillers operate. BP had skirted maintenance and safety protocols to reduce operational costs, which led to the massive spill.
Most of the other operators in the Gulf that had followed state and federal guidelines before the disaster frowned on BP’s practices once it was revealed that the spill could have been prevented. Trade groups representing the oil and gas industry argued that the safety rules that the Obama administration put in place were not necessary and could be harmful if implemented.
Cooper said he wants the administration to pull back on the Obama-era rules that are preventing drilling in the Gulf.
“We want them to do that," he said. "We want them to go ahead and drill, because like I said, a lot of guys go back to work in the oil field," he said.
"If we don’t have it, then the community suffers,” Cooper said. “Open it up.”