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Obama Administration Issues New Rules For Offshore Drilling

Boats battle a fire at the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon on April 21, 2010. On Thursday, the Interior Department released what it called "the most significant safety and environmental protection reforms the Interior Department has undertaken since <em>Deepwater Horizon.</em>"

The Obama administration has issued new rules governing offshore drilling, six years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 rig workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The new rules from the Interior Department include requirements for design of well components as well as monitoring and inspection.

Several rules target blowout preventers, or BOPs (devices that can seal off a well in case of emergency, and prevent an uncontrolled leak). The failure of a BOP contributed to the Deepwater catastrophe.

The Interior Department is mandating that BOPs be designed to avoid certain weaknesses, and be broken down and inspected every five years.

"In addition, drilling of highly complex wells must be monitored in real-time by experts onshore," The Associated Press writes. "The rules also set out standards called 'safe drilling margins' for the design, casing, cementing and other work that goes into drilling a well."

A statement from the Interior Department said the changes are designed to protect both workers' lives and the environment. And the head of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says that the rules were based on existing best practices being used in the industry.

""We have made it a priority to engage with industry to strengthen our understanding of emerging technology," BSEE Director Brian Salerno says.

One petroleum engineer told the AP that following the stricter standards would actually save oil companies money, by reducing the number of pricey well failures.

But as NPR's Debbie Elliott tells our Newscast unit, not everyone is pleased.

"The oil and gas industry says some of the requirements are costly and unnecessary," Debbie says. Meanwhile, "environmental groups say more stringent standards are overdue."

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