Green groups to petition Biden for cleanup rules for offshore oil infrastructure

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups will petition the Biden administration to propose rules that require stricter enforcement for cleaning up leftover infrastructure for offshore drilling.

The effort follows a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, which found that more than 2,700 idle oil wells and 500 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico had not been cleaned up. 

It also found that cleanup deadlines had been missed for more more than 40 percent of wells and 50 percent of platforms by companies that held rights to drill in the Gulf from 2010 to 2022.

“We are essentially asking for the agency who is charged with oversight of offshore oil and gas to get its act together,“ said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups behind the petition. 

“They’re currently not requiring well-plugging, they’re not requiring removal of platforms,” Sakashita said. 

They are asking for the administration to put forward enforceable cleanup deadlines for drillers and require them to remove pipelines that are associated with their underwater drilling, according to a draft petition that was first shared with The Hill.

The groups are also asking that the agency be required to take legal action to enforce cleanup rules in a timely manner, and for there to be standards to make sure that companies who are given rights to drill offshore are able to clean up afterwards.

The petition said that currently, oil and gas infrastructure can deteriorate if it is left behind for too long and can become vulnerable to storm damage.

“This damage can lead to pollution and potentially catastrophic events such as severe oil spills, which not only harm marine wildlife but can also significantly impact coastal
communities,” it says. “Additionally, unplugged wells are a particular concern as they are prone to leaking oil and other pollution into the marine environment.”

The petition requires the federal government to provide a response as to whether they want to pursue the rule that the groups have asked for. If they deny the petition, the groups may sue.

The Biden administration has taken at least one step to try to address the issue — proposing a rule last year that aimed to add scrutiny on companies’ ability to pay to clean up the drilling infrastructure they leave behind. 

However, Sakashita said that the groups are looking for a “much larger, you know, full-scope overhaul.”

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment on the petition, which will be filed Thursday.

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