WASHINGTON — The Interior Department on Thursday issued two new rules to improve safety on offshore oil and gas rigs, bringing the Obama administration a step closer to lifting its ban on drilling in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
One rule calls for a workplace safety system to identify hazards and reduce human errors, including a requirement that each rig have an oil spill contingency plan and conduct drills to practice it. Oil and gas companies had strongly objected to such a rule before the BP gusher sent 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over the spring and summer.
The other rule prescribes how cement and drilling fluids should be used to maintain the well bore and toughens standards for blowout preventers and other equipment design to shut off the flow of oil and gas in an emergency.
The workplace rule will take effect as soon as it is published. The new drilling regulation is effective immediately.
Oil and gas industry groups denounced the new rules as likely to delay new permits to drill. “We cannot have an approval process that creates unpredictable delays that could place at risk the flow of domestic energy in our country,” said Erik Milito, a director for the American Petroleum Institute.