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U.S. adopts stricter safety rules for offshore drilling

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 9:36 PM

The federal government is adopting a drilling safety rule and a workplace safety rule, imposing stricter requirements on offshore drilling operators, the Interior Department announced Thursday.

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Energy industry officials said that they would review the regulations but that federal officials can now lift the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico without fearing the consequences.

"In light of these new regulations, we strongly encourage the Obama administration to lift its economically devastating moratorium and move forward with responsible deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico," said Bruce Vincent, who chairs the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Environmentalists countered that even strict rules wouldn't make offshore drilling acceptable in all areas of the United States.

"The next critical step in making our oceans and beaches safer from drilling is to declare all new areas off limits for drilling," said Michael Gravitz, oceans advocate for Environment America. "The safest drilling of new places like the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, eastern Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic is no drilling at all."

The drilling safety rule - which takes effect immediately - dictates specific procedures aimed at preventing a blowout, including cementing and casing practices and the appropriate use of drilling fluids. It also increases oversight of mechanisms - such as the blowout preventer - that would shut off the flow of oil and gas in an accident, and it requires operators to secure independent and expert reviews of well design, construction and flow-intervention mechanisms.

The workplace safety rule forces offshore operators to have what an Interior Department statement describes as "clear programs in place to identify potential hazards when they drill, clear protocol for addressing those hazards, and strong procedures and risk-reduction strategies for all phases of activity, from well design and construction to operation, maintenance, and decommissioning."

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