BP Gulf Oil Spill Panel Calls for Reforms

A White House panel that investigated last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico called Tuesday for the oil industry, Congress and the Obama administration to do more to reduce the chances of another large-scale disaster.

The independent panel, assembled by U.S. President Barack Obama, issued its final report recommending increased budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling and raising the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore. It also proposed dedicating 80 per cent of fines and penalties from the BP spill to restoration of the Gulf and lending more weight to scientific opinions by other federal scientists in decisions about drilling.

The blowout and rig explosion last April that killed 11 workers and released more than 730 million litres of oil from the damaged well have prompted changes in the oil industry and at the agency in charge of offshore drilling.

“It is our government’s responsibility that exploration and extraction occur in ways that are beneficial to the country,” panel co-chair and former Florida Senator Bob Graham said. “Drilling offshore is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be exercised by private corporations.” Graham said “the probability of another failure will be dramatically greater” if the recommendations are not carried out. (CBC) Graham said the investigation showed the disaster was “preventable and foreseeable,” and described a shared “failure that was years in the making… Federal government oversight utterly failed to provide an acceptable level of protection for those on the rig and for the Americans who call the Gulf their home,” Mr. Graham said in a statement. “Our regulators were over-matched.” (BBC)

The panel said Congress should draft legislation to create within the Interior Department an independent safety agency and a separate environmental office to evaluate the risks of oil drilling to natural resources. U.S. regulations should for offshore drilling should be at least as stringent as those in other oil-producing countries and require oil companies to adopt safety procedures common elsewhere but lacking in the Gulf, it said.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said in a statement Monday that the department already has “undertaken an aggressive overhaul” to increase safety and ensure responsible oil and gas development. We have made significant progress over the last eight months, but these reforms must continue,” Barkoff said. (CBC)

The report spreads blame for the disaster widely, criticizing BP, which owned the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned the rig; and Halliburton, which managed the well-sealing operation. It said the companies had cut corners to save time and money – decisions that contributed to the disaster.

“Our exhaustive investigation finds that none of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety – not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices – kept pace with the push into deep water,” said panel co-chairman William Reilly. (BBC)

The BBC’s Paul Adams, in Washington, says William Reilly was at pains to emphasize that last year’s spill was not a freakish, one-off event, but  rather part of a much wider problem. The commission’s recommendations include plenty of talk about tougher regulation. In Congress, where Republicans who traditionally mistrust federal regulation now control the House of Representatives, it’ll be interesting to see how lawmakers decide to act, Adams added. Last week, the commission released an advance chapter of its report which said the firms involved had made decisions to cut costs and save time that contributed to the spill. It said the decisions, even if inadvertent, had significantly increased the risk the Macondo well would blow out. “BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure the key decisions in the months leading up to the blow-out were safe or sound from an engineering perspective,” the report found. (BBC)

“As drilling pushes into ever deeper and riskier waters where more of America’s oil lies, only systemic reforms of both government and industry will prevent a similar, future disaster,” said William Reilly. “The industry needs to pick up its own game,” said Reilly, who said the industry was already considering the commission’s charge that it form a self-policing “safety institute.” (CNN)

Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann criticized the report’s conclusions, saying the commission “selectively omitted information provided to it by Halliburton in response to its numerous inquiries.” Mann specifically noted what she described as a mischaracterization of the February and April foam stability tests related to the cement pumped at the deepwater well, according to a company statement Tuesday.” (CNN)

Transocean spokesperson Samantha Cohen blamed BP for the incident, lauding the Transocean crew who “took appropriate actions to gain control of the well.” She added that “it would be premature to draw final conclusions at this juncture,” according to a written statement. (CNN)

In contrast, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said his organization commends “the oil spill commission for its thorough and thoughtful examination of the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history… This report is very timely, following a severe Alaskan pipeline leak this past week that reinforced the need for us to take a hard look at safety standards and our nation’s addiction to oil,” he said in a written statement.

BP said Tuesday it cooperated fully with the commission. “Given the emerging consensus that the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of multiple causes involving multiple parties, we support the commission’s efforts to strengthen industrywide safety practices,” BP spokeswoman Ellen Moskowitz said. “We are committed to working with government officials and other operators and contractors to identify and implement operational and regulatory changes that will enhance safety practices throughout the oil and gas industry.” (CNN)

The information gathered in this article has been collected from sources including CNN, BBC, and CBC.

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