By Shiva Polefka
Today, Saturday, April 20th, marks the third anniversary of the explosion aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and set off the largest accidental spill in the oil industry’s history. The ruptured Macondo well spewed nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil over the course of the summer, ultimately fouling more than 1,000 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline and bringing the vast fishing and tourism industries of the region to a standstill, before the Macondo well was finally sealed and “killed” on September 19, 2010.
Following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, President Obama appointed a panel of experts that convened as the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Its final report, issued in January 2011, revealed the irresponsible practices of BP and its contractors, uncovered a lack of federal oversight, and provided a comprehensive set of policy reforms that would make the offshore energy industry safer.
Earlier this week, members of the Commission, now acting independently as a group called Oil Spill Commission Action (OSCA), released their second “Report Card” on the progress major actors were making to implement their recommendations.
So, three years after the catastrophe, what has changed? Have we acted on the painful lessons taught by Deepwater Horizon? Are government and industry leaders taking steps to reduce the risk of another destructive spill or blowout? The answers are decidedly mixed.
Department of the Interior and Industry
OSCA awarded the Obama administration a B, in recognition that the Department of the Interior has enacted some of the safety reforms recommended within the official report, and brought about a 15 percent increase in offshore rig inspections occurring in the Gulf.
OSCA gave the oil industry a B-, noting that it has voluntarily contributed in meaningful ways to the reduction of risk future oil spills in response to Deepwater Horizon, by implementing new safety standards and readying four oil well capping systems for the Gulf of Mexico like the one ultimately used to stanch the Macondo well’s blowout. Before Deepwater Horizon, no such systems existed.