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Report: BP Spill Could Happen Again Without Reforms Report: BP Spill Could Happen Again Without Reforms

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Homepage / ENERGY

Report: BP Spill Could Happen Again Without Reforms

The Development Driller II bore a relief well near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

photo of Amy Harder
January 6, 2011

If the federal government and oil industry don’t reform the way drilling for offshore oil and gas is conducted, a spill the size of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster could occur again, President Obama’s spill commission warned.

The factors leading up to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are emblematic of a flawed system operated by the oil industry and government, according to an excerpt of the commission’s final report, which was released Wednesday evening. The final report will be presented next Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again,” reads the excerpt, which contains 48 pages of what is expected to be a 300-page report, according to a spokesman for the commission. “The root causes are systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

 

The report’s excerpt continues: “The missteps were rooted in systematic failures by industry management (extending beyond BP to contractors that serve many in the industry) and also by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.”

The report’s political effect could be damning to the new Republican leadership in the House and reinvigorating to Democrats critical of the oil industry.

BP is still in the hot seat, but now the oil industry and the government responsible for oversight and safety must answer to this report. They can no longer point to BP and say it was the oil giant’s lack of judgment that caused the disaster.

“The question we asked from the very beginning was: Is this about the player or the game? Is this going to be a bad actor or one-off circumstance or a smoking gun? Or is this going to be about the whole idea?” said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, a consulting firm based in Washington. “It’s not about the player, it’s about the game. This lays the pretext for aggressive reform.”

Top Republicans in the House including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., have blasted the administration for several decisions the Interior Department has made over the past eight months since the spill, which appear to be in line with the report’s findings.

“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last month when announcing the administration was reversing course on its expanded offshore drilling policy it laid out in March.

Hastings, Upton, and other Republicans and oil-state Democrats criticized the administration for that decision. “They are cheering in the streets of Caracas [Venezuela] and Tehran [Iran] today over the administration’s misguided offshore drilling moratorium," Upton said then. “We need an 'all of the above' approach with offshore drilling right at the top.” Upton didn’t address the administration’s concern for safety, a common trend among his Republican colleagues.

The report could thrust the oil spill back into the headlines and force administration officials and the oil industry to testify to Congress about the safety of offshore drilling. Hastings and Upton have promised hearings investigating the administration’s recent decisions since the spill, including the reversal on its offshore drilling policy. This report should compel both chambers of Congress to hold hearings addressing what caused the spill early in the session.

This section of the report solidifies the administration’s position that it has taken steps to overhaul the Interior Department’s oversight of the offshore drilling industry. “This reinforces the administration’s scriptures on production,” Book said. “It was always in the cards, but it gives substance and motivation to actions already in progress.”

 

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