Earlier today, a presidential commission on the BP oil spill released two reports showing yet more evidence about how ill-equipped both the government and industry were to handle a massive spill. The technology needed to contain it lagged years behind advancements in drilling technology.

"The containment story thus contains two parallel threads," the panel wrote. "First, on April 20, the oil and gas industry was unprepared to respond to a deepwater blowout, and the federal government was similarly unprepared to provide meaningful supervision."

You can read the reports (one and two), which together tally 66 pages, in our handy doc viewer. The seven-member commission, which will give President Barack Obama a final report in January, has been active in criticizing the government, and it recently gave BP its biggest break when it said earlier this month that the company did not appear to put cost ahead of safety.

Here, too, the panel lets government regulators have it. And much of the criticism comes from interviews with employees of the Minerals Management Service (since renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement). From one of the reports:

"The agency viewed itself as neither capable of, nor tasked with, providing more substantive oversight. One MMS employee asserted that BP, and industry more broadly, possessed ten times the expertise that MMS could bring to bear on the enormously complex problem of deepwater containment."

One of the biggest critiques the commission cited in its reports is how the largest oil companies have invested almost nothing into clean-up technology.

"In a compressed timeframe, BP was able to design, build, and use new containment technologies, while the federal government was able to develop effective oversight capacity," one report states. "Those impressive efforts, however, were made necessary by the failure to anticipate a subsea blowout in the first place."

The commission laid out several recommendations for improvement, which the folks at the New York Times condensed into this easy-to-read list:

  • Offshore operators should be required to submit detailed containment plans and prove their ability to carry them out.
  • The government needs to hire and retain qualified experts to oversee future accidents.
  • Government scientists should apply lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon accident to develop better means of gauging the rate of oil and gas discharged during a spill.
  • New technical means should be designed to monitor wells while they are being drilled and in the event of a blowout.
  • Well designs should be modified to take into account the possibility of a catastrophic blowout.
  • All deepwater operators, including companies smaller than BP and other major oil companies, should be forced to demonstrate the capacity to respond to a major disaster and clean up after it.

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