by Kiley Kroh
Yesterday, federal regulators released their report on the cause of BP’s April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The report finds BP “ultimately responsible” for the catastrophe because it had sought to cut costs and save time, all at the expense of safety. The joint Interior-US Coast Guard effort is the conclusion of a 17-month investigation, the most exhaustive to date.
Though the brunt of the blame certainly falls on BP for its “failure to have full supervision and accountability over the activities associated with the Deepwater Horizon,” the report also cites key failures on the part of both Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Co. as contributing to the eventual blowout.
The report concluded that a “central cause of the blowout was failure of a cement barrier.” Halliburton ran cementing operations for the well that ultimately took three months to seal. The report also criticizes drilling rig owner Transocean for two critical failures. First, rather than sending the escaping gas overboard, Transocean personnel used a piece of equipment that kept the gas on the rig, allowing it to ignite. And second, they subsequently failed to promptly alert engine operators that gas was detected.
The report echoes many of the same findings as previous probes – including those of the independent National Oil Spill Commission. The question now is whether the governmental involvement will carry any weight in Congress where Republican lawmakers in particular have said they are unwilling to adopt reforms until this investigation was complete. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has had no problem passing a host of bills that cater directly to the oil industry by simultaneously weakening oversight and opening vast areas of the US to new drilling.
On the regulatory side, the report notes that “stronger and more comprehensive federal regulations might have reduced the likelihood of the Macondo blowout.” The Washington Post offers harsher criticism:
While the federal investigative team lays blame on decisions made by the companies, it does not address the government’s own role in approving some of the questionable decisions. The federal agency that oversees offshore drilling signed off on many of the calls made by the companies, sometimes in minutes, and accepted an outdated and erroneous oil spill plan for the well that discussed protecting species that did not even exist in the Gulf of Mexico
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement has taken steps to shore up offshore drilling safety – including requiring operations plans to include a demonstrated ability to contain a subsea blowout. And the release of today’s report reinforces the need for the further measures proposed by Director Michael Bromwich this week that include third party safety audit requirements, procedures for reporting unsafe work conditions, and an array of new job safety guidelines.
However, the fact still remains that Congress has failed to pass a single piece of legislation aimed at strengthening offshore drilling safety or oversight, raising the oil spill liability limit (which is currently capped at a ridiculously low $75 million), or catalyzing the restoration process in the gulf.
The explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon cost the lives of 11 people, spilled over 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, and wreaked untold havoc on the ecosystems and communities of an entire region. Rep. Markey has introduced a bill (H.R. 501), Implementing the Recommendations of the BP Oil Spill Commission Act of 2011, building on the recommendations of the BP Spill Commission to reform the practices and oversight of the offshore oil industry, but the GOP leadership has refused to allow any action on the legislation.
In 2010, during the previous session of Congress, Senate Republicans blocked similar House-passed legislation that would have improved offshore drilling safety. Rep. Doc Hastings, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who has continually pushed pro-drilling legislation since the disaster, says a response is forthcoming: “We have waited far too long for this report, but the Committee is ready to take action.”
What that action might entail, remains to be seen.
— Kiley Kroh is associate director of Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress