By Coral Davenport
WASHINGTON -- Just days after the seventh anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation's history, President Trump on Friday directed the Interior Department to "reconsider" several safety regulations on offshore drilling put in place after the spill.
Friday's executive order was aimed at rolling back the Obama administration's attempts to ban oil drilling off the southeastern Atlantic and Alaskan coasts.
It would erase or narrow the boundaries of some federally protected marine sanctuaries, opening them up to commercial fishing and oil drilling.
But Mr. Trump also took aim at regulations on oil-rig safety.
In the final years of the Obama administration, the Interior Department instituted several new rules aimed at improving the safety of specific pieces of offshore drilling equipment that had failed during the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that were found to have been responsible for the BP oil rig explosion.
Mr. Trump's order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review and revise those rules.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon killed 11, set off a weekslong crisis for the Obama administration and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.
The regulations were intended to prevent such disasters in the future, but oil companies complained that many were costly, burdensome and duplicative, and that they were already developing industrywide safety protocols to prevent future blowouts.
Mr. Trump espoused the companies' view in a Friday morning signing ceremony in the White House's Roosevelt Room, named in part for Theodore Roosevelt, a president famed for his legacy of conserving the nation's natural resources.
"Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and gas reserves," Mr. Trump said. "But the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production. And when I say closed, I mean closed."
He added, "This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth. I pledged to take action, and today I am keeping that promise."
In particular, Mr. Trump's order targets a new rule put in place last year by the Obama administration, known as the Well Control Rule, which was intended to tighten controls on blowout preventers, the industry-standard devices that are the last line of protection to stop explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig was caused partly by the buckling of a section of drill pipe. That buckling prompted the deployment of a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer on the BP well, but the equipment malfunctioned.
The Obama-era rule also added tougher requirements to the design of undersea wells and the lining that coats the wells.
It also requires an outside organization to conduct annual assessments of the mechanical integrity of blowout preventers, including a requirement that the equipment be maintained according to the manufacturers' original performance standards, and that it be subject as well to real-time underwater video monitoring.
Environmentalists said they were shocked at Mr. Trump's move to reopen the safety regulation.
"The well control rule is one of the single most important things we did as a nation to respond to the worst offshore oil disaster in our nation's history and to reduce the risk of it ever happening again," said Bob Deans, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, and co-author of the book "In Deep Water," an investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"The purpose of the rule is to reduce the risk in what is an inherently dangerous industrial operation at sea. Any attempt to walk back that rule will expose our workers, our waters and our wildlife to increased risk. Why we would want to turn the clock back to April 2010 and roll the dice on another BP-style disaster, walk away from the lessons we learned, from the deaths of those workers, is incomprehensible. It's madness."
The oil industry cheered the move and emphasized that companies were already implementing their own safety measures.
"I.P.A.A. applauds the signing of this executive order as a step in the right direction for America's energy economy and national energy security," said Dan Naatz, a vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. "With a proven record of offshore production that can be done safely and responsibly, I.P.A.A. has long advocated for increased access to our offshore resources to support economic development, American jobs, and expanded energy production here at home."