US stops Trump-era effort to loosen safety rules for Arctic drilling

The rule relaxing safety restrictions was never finalized and has now been withdrawn.

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Shell Oil Company’s drilling rig Polar Pioneer is seen in the background as activists march to the entrance of Terminal 5 to protest the rig which is parked at the Port of Seattle, Washington May 18, 2015. (Jason Redmond / Reuters File Photo)

The United States on Friday said it had revoked a last-minute effort by the Trump Administration to loosen safety regulations for the oil industry in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska.

The rule, which was proposed in December of last year, would have revised a suite of Obama-era rules crafted to improve safety in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including eliminating a requirement that oil operators submit detailed operations plans before exploration and demonstrate they can quickly deploy containment equipment in case of spills.

“The Arctic exploratory drilling regulations released in 2016 are critical to ensuring adequate safety and environmental protections for this sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native subsistence activities,” the Interior Department said.

The rollback effort was among a string of eleventh-hour proposals from the administration of former President Donald Trump aimed at maximizing energy development on public lands and waters. The rule was never finalized and has now been withdrawn, the department said.

President Joe Biden’s Interior Department has been dismantling those efforts as part of a broad federal agenda to tackle climate change. Biden has also imposed a temporary ban on all new federal oil and gas leasing, pending a review of the program.

Much of the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean — the Chukchi Sea and part of the Beaufort Sea — was already off limits to new leasing under a judge’s 2019 order that overturned Trump’s effort to open vast areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to oil leasing.

Reporting by Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici.