Journalism in the Public Interest

Read the Latest Reports on Gulf Spill, Slamming Industry and Regulators

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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I love Chevrons’ response (page 4) to their commitment (or lack of) to R&D for clean up technology; “In general, Chevron does not conduct independent research on spill response technologies specifically, but we do have a financial and manpower involvement in oil spill cooperatives or for profit response companies.”  So if I understand correctly, they spend $0 on their own clean up R&D initiatives, but invest in companies that can profit from clean up situations.  That just might qualify as a new definition for “ass backwards”.

Like Big Oil, Big Government has also failed to invest in clean-up technology.  The President’s request for FY 2011 oil spill research is $6.303 million, same as for 2009 and 2010, compared to $7.892 million requested in FY 1996 (Source, MMS Budget Justifications from the MMs Web site).

Does BP Donate to the operations of Pro Publica and how much if they do?

I guess I don’t know the scope of this report.  This is nothing more than political double talk.  We have learned from this report that the government will foot the bill for oil spill cleanup R&D.  The second report addresses the spill reaction in great detail, something we already knew.

These reports do not approach the real issues of who, what, why, or when, responsibility for what happened. 

When the MMS was formed it was what the oil companies wanted, no oversight, no regulations, and no one in the MMS who knew the first thing about drilling for oil.

If this is all this commission is supposed to comeup with, I am disapointed, just another 9/11 investigation, and a waste of money.

While it is easy to blame MMS employees for the failure to anticipate a perfect storm, the problems lie not with the rank and file employees but with the will of the American people as expressed by Congress. The OCS Lands Act calls for risk sharing throughout the Outer Continental Shelf, the American people decided equitable risk meant all activity should take place in the Gulf of Mexico. Congress dictated time frames for reviews that may have been acceptable at the passing of the law, but clearly not for the water depths and complexities of today.

Congress determines the funding for various activities and the Gulf of Mexico Office has not had a large enough inspection staff to meet the challenge of 4000 plus platforms.

Despite the claim otherwise many MMS staff are experienced oil persons, however, that does not mean they are capable of changing the minds of politically motivated decision makers.

Finally, perhaps if we paid more attention to the failures and abuses by oil companies around the world, we would not be surprised by what happened here.

What I’m getting from this is everyone is to blame. For the spill. I heard eleven people died in this accident. Who’s fault was that? Theirs?

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Gulf Oil Spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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