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Washington — The US is proposing to ease some of the requirements included in a key offshore drilling safety rule in order to save operators millions of dollars and "reduce unnecessary burdens."

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The proposed changes to the well control rule, enacted in 2016 in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, affect only a small portion of that rule's requirements and will not reduce safety, the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Friday.

The changes will "reduce regulatory burdens" and save offshore operators approximately $946 million over the next 10 years, BSEE said.

Friday's announcement did not contain many specifics. But Interior officials emphasized that the changes, to be detailed in the next few days, only applied to about 18% of the provisions of the original well control rule.



The "engineers on our team have gone in with a scalpel and been very precise" about which provisions of the rule they chose to revise, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Katharine MacGregor said on a call with reporters.

"Our process has been tailored and measured," focusing on safety "without lessening safeguards," BSEE Director Scott Angelle said.

CHANGES INCLUDE REDUCED REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

The rule detailed requirements for the cementing of offshore wells as well as the testing and maintenance of blowout preventers, or BOPs - the massive stacks of valves designed to slice through drilling pipe and shut in a well, preventing the leakage of gas and oil.

One key change is in the requirement that operators can use a combination of shearing tools, called rams, in a BOP to ensure that pipes, tubing, or other items are cut cleanly in case of a potential well blowout.

The current rule calls for dual blind shear rams to accomplish that task. The new rule would allow operators more flexibility to accomplish the same end result without prescribing precisely the tools that need to be used.

The proposed change would also reduce the amount of reporting required to BSEE, allowing operators to log less downtime while waiting for government review before moving rigs.

The proposed changes will be published in the Federal Register within the next few days, opening a 60-day comment period. Any changes in response to comments would trigger another interagency review of approximately 90 days, MacGregor said.

Industry groups praised the proposed changes, while environmental organizations and several Democratic lawmakers said they unnecessarily compromised offshore safety.

--Gary Gentile, gary.gentile@spglobal.com

--Edited by Rocco Canonica, newsdesk@spglobal.com