Obama administration unveils new oil well rules to prevent blow-outs

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled new oil well control rules designed to prevent the kind of blowout that happened six years ago on a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The regulations, finalised by the interior department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, include stringent design requirements and operational procedures for offshore oil and gas operations.
The blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, off the cost of Louisiana, on 20 April 2010, killed 11 workers and led to the worst oil spill of all time.

Meanwhile, another federal agency, the US Chemical Safety Board, on Wednesday, proposed even more rigorous standards to ensure safety in offshore drilling operations. The agency called for increased involvement of offshore workers in safety decisions and greater authority to regulators to enforce rules.

The interior department rules were aimed at ensuring that blowout preventers (BOPs), massive valve-like devices meant to prevent oil and gas from escaping when a driller lost control of a well, do not fail, as in the BP spill.

According to officials, the rules would improve the inspection, maintenance, and repair of BOPs. Under the new rules, for instance, BOPs would need to be broken down and inspected every five years.

Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Anadarko Petroleum Corp had opposed the rules, which they say, would impose tens of billions of dollars in new costs hitting operations in the Gulf of Mexico, which accounted for about 17 per cent of US crude production.

While some of the industry's demands were accommodated, the rules need to satisfy big oil companies, who said, they needed much more certainty to begin big, multibillion dollar projects.

The interior department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement estimates that the measure, which was essential to stepping up safety, would cost $1 billion over 10 years.