Oil Industry Seeks to Join Litigation in Effort to Preserve Ability to Drill With Impunity in Trump Administration

Healthy Gulf, Democracy Forward Oppose Administration, Oil Industry’s Efforts to Shut Down Case

Washington D.C.— Democracy Forward, on behalf of Healthy Gulf, filed a brief opposing the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss their lawsuit challenging the Department of the Interior’s secret and unlawful rollback of safety requirements designed to protect America’s coasts from another Deepwater Horizon disaster. The administration’s undisclosed Waiver Rule allows the offshore drilling industry to systematically bypass safety procedures with criteria that have never been available for public comment. As a result, chances of another catastrophic oil spill on the Gulf Coast are substantially increased while the Gulf community is left in the dark about the agency’s offshore deregulatory practices.

“The Trump administration’s shadow operation puts oil industry interests over the health and safety of our coastal communities and workers,” said Travis Annatoyn, Democracy Forward Senior Counsel. “As long as this illegal policy is in place, we’ll fight back against all efforts to shut down this case.”

“The Well Control Rule was implemented for a very specific purpose: to prevent another blowout like the BP drilling disaster,” said Cyn Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “This Administration was freely handing out hundreds of waivers to the oil & gas industry. It’s absolutely disgraceful and a slap in the face to Gulf communities, workers and the environment.”

The suit alleges DOI is violating federal law by secretly implementing a waiver policy that systematically exempts industry from the federal requirements for testing blowout preventer systems — a series of safety mechanisms used to prevent and seal an uncontrolled release of oil or gas from offshore wells. The suit cites documents revealing Trump official Scott Angelle, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, candidly contemplated using waivers to delay safety protocols outside public view. This tracks with Angelle’s stated commitment to be an industry “partner” while serving at DOI.

The Waiver Rule, under which the administration has granted more than 960 waivers to offshore drillers between January 20, 2017 and March 22, 2018, violates federal law because:

  • It was not published in the Federal Register or circulated for public comment. DOI cannot evade the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirements merely by declining to publish a rule for comment.

  • It was not assessed under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires DOI to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment to consider the effects of the proposed action. The Trump administration recently announced plans to gut NEPA’s environmental review process.

In a demonstration of their lack of concern with worker safety and environmental stewardship, the American Petroleum Institute — a lobbying group for the oil industry —  last month moved to intervene in the lawsuit in an attempt to stymie our case to protect these critical safety protocols.