Rod Dreher

A Canadian oil spill expert tells the BBC today that the Louisiana oil spill is going to dwarf the Exxon Valdez disaster, and with the possible exception of the Kuwait oil field fires following the first Gulf War, will be the worst oil field disaster in history. Meanwhile, it turns out that the damaged deep-water well is gushing five times more oil than previously thought. And US regulators did not require an extra level of emergency shut-off protection — which Norway and Brazil do require in their offshore wells — that might have prevented the spill. From the Wall Street Journal:

Industry critics cite the lack of the remote control as a sign U.S. drilling policy has been too lax. “What we see, going back two decades, is an oil industry that has had way too much sway with federal regulations,” said Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. “We are seeing our worst nightmare coming true.”
U.S. regulators have considered mandating the use of remote-control acoustic switches or other back-up equipment at least since 2000. After a drilling ship accidentally released oil, the Minerals Management Service issued a safety notice that said a back-up system is “an essential component of a deepwater drilling system.”
The industry argued against the acoustic systems. A 2001 report from the International Association of Drilling Contractors said “significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency back-up control system during an actual well flowing incident.”
By 2003, U.S. regulators decided remote-controlled safeguards needed more study. A report commissioned by the Minerals Management Service said “acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly.”

Extra safety measures would have cost too much money. And get this: an updated Wall Street Journal report finds documents showing that British Petroleum, owner of the leaking well, specifically opposed these safety measures. Excerpt:

In a letter published on the U.S. government Web site, Richard Morrison, BP’s vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, wrote that while BP “is supportive of companies having a system in place to reduce risk, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule.”
He added: “We believe the industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs..have been and continue to be very successful.”
Mr. Morrison noted that BP had already adopted policies that complied with the MMS’s proposed new rules. But he challenged the need for companies to file regular audits of their safety programs with the agency, saying that would be “an administrative burden.”

Ah, yes: let industry regulate itself. That’ll work! And, now look: we are quite possibly facing the destruction of the Gulf Coast fishing and tourism industries, as well as the ruin of vast areas of irreplaceable wildlife and marine life habitat. A New Orleans-based commentator told the BBC this morning (I can’t provide a link; I heard it on the radio driving in) that decades of work to save the Louisiana wetlands will almost certainly be destroyed. He also said that the economic impact on the state from this thing will be like a second Katrina.
Thanks, British Petroleum. Thanks, U.S. government regulators.

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