Prior to Deepwater Horizon Anniversary, Top Committee Democrats Urge Full Environmental Review of Offshore Oil & Gas Drilling

Washington, D.C. – Prior to the 14th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Ranking Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee Ranking Member Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Committee Vice Ranking Member Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.) today sent a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) urging the agency to immediately discontinue its use of categorical exclusions (CE) for offshore oil and gas development. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), CEs enable federal agencies to bypass Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement requirements.

In January 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (the Commission) concluded that failures by industry management and a lack of effective oversight of offshore drilling were among the primary causes of the disaster. As the lawmakers write, the Commission further found that the application of NEPA requirements to offshore drilling needed “significant revision,” citing the use of CEs as part of the issue:

“The Commission concluded that the use of CEs for permitting BP’s Deepwater Horizon contributed to a breakdown in the environmental review process. The Commission also recommended that [the Council on Environmental Quality] and the Department of the Interior ‘revise and strengthen the NEPA policies, practices, and procedures to improve the level of environmental analysis, transparency, and consistency at all stages of the [Outer Continental Shelf] planning, leasing, exploration, and development process.’”

More than a decade later, many of the Commission’s recommendations have not been adopted. From 2018 to 2022, BOEM used CEs to approve “90 percent of development plans and almost 25 percent of exploration plans submitted” for projects that would otherwise require a site-specific NEPA analysis. Emphasizing how bypassing full environmental review for offshore drilling poses dangers to coastal communities already facing impacts from the climate crisis, the lawmakers continue:

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster illustrated the dangers of this approach: multiple applications for drilling permits and modification of drilling permits associated with BP’s Macondo well, the site of the disaster, were categorically excluded from site-specific NEPA analysis. It is past time that this rubber-stamping of potentially catastrophic projects is retired.”

READ the full letter to BOEM. 

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