Illegal Trump-Era Policy Risked Another Deepwater Horizon Disaster

New Letter Details Interior Dept.’s Position on Enforcing Safety Rules

Washington, D.C. — In response to Democracy Forward’s lawsuit on behalf of Healthy Gulf, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has affirmed offshore drilling safety measures that are critical to preventing another Deepwater Horizon disaster. BSEE’s announcement that it is enforcing the safety provisions runs contrary to a Trump-era policy that weakened critical safety requirements for offshore drilling.

BSEE’s disclosure was made in a letter sent to Healthy Gulf and Democracy Forward relating to a lawsuit the groups filed in September 2019 over the Trump administration’s unlawful issuance of waivers of the essential safety requirements. The lawsuit cited evidence indicating that the Trump administration created a dangerous and undisclosed “Waiver Rule,” which allowed the offshore drilling industry to systematically bypass safety procedures through criteria that were never available for public comment.

“The Well Control Rule was one of the few safety measures implemented after the BP Drilling Disaster that would prevent another catastrophic blowout. The Trump administration was frequently waiving this important rule,” said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of Healthy Gulf. “We’re glad that the Biden administration has agreed that the rule should be enforced to protect our workers and communities.”

In the letter, BSEE stated that it:

  • Is “enforcing” critical safety procedures from the 2016 Well Control Rule; and
  • Adjudicates requests for waivers of those procedures “on a case-by-case basis” and only approves alternative measures that “provide a level of safety and environmental protection that equals or surpasses current BSEE requirements.”

“The Trump administration put the Gulf Coast at risk of another Deepwater Horizon disaster by unlawfully allowing oil companies to dodge safety protections, but our lawsuit has led the government to commit to those crucial protections,” said Democracy Forward Counsel Kristen Miller. “We are pleased the agency has affirmed its commitment to the rule of law when making decisions that impact the health and safety of our coastal communities and workers.”

Healthy Gulf voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit today in response to BSEE’s announcement that it is ensuring compliance with the safety rules.


The Trump administration’s secret rule allowed the offshore drilling industry to avoid procedures for testing a key safety mechanism—known as a “blowout preventer”—by meeting criteria that have never been available for public comment. The important testing protocols were designed to prevent and seal an uncontrolled release of oil or gas from offshore wells in order to avert another Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Trump administration’s approach to granting these waivers increased the odds of another catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf Coast and left the Gulf community in the dark about the agency’s deregulatory offshore drilling practices. The Trump administration granted more than 960 waivers to offshore drillers between January 20, 2017, and March 22, 2018.

Learn more about the Healthy Gulf and Democracy Forward’s lawsuit here.


Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that represents organizations, individuals, and municipalities in impact litigation to keep corruption out of policymaking.

Healthy Gulf’s purpose is to collaborate with and serve communities who love the Gulf of Mexico by providing the research, communications, and coalition-building tools needed to reverse the long pattern of over exploitation of the Gulf’s natural resources.

Press Contacts

Megan Uzzell
Democracy Forward
(202) 701-1784

Dustin Renaud
Healthy Gulf
(228) 209-2194