Gulf Oil Spill Could Happen Again, Commission Warns

What impact will the results of a presidential probe into the Deepwater Horizon disaster have on the oil industry?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

BP's shoddy risk assessment and poor communication played a major role in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and deaths of 11 rig workers last April, a presidential commission says in a preliminary report. The commission notes that--purposefully or not--many of the risky decisions made by rig-operator BP, cement-provider Halliburton, and rig-owner Transocean saved the companies time and money.

But the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, which dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, also occurred because federal regulators did not have sufficient training or personnel to effectively oversee offshore drilling, the report adds. The crisis was not some fluke stemming from poor decisions by a handful of bad apples in the oil industry and in government. Instead, the commission decries an industry-wide problem: "the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur."

What does the report mean for the future of deepwater drilling?

  • It's Unclear Whether the Findings Have Teeth, says Stephen Power and Ben Casselman at The Wall Street Journal: The report's conclusions "could give regulators more ammunition to pursue tougher safety rules," they write. But there is also a great deal of pressure on "lawmakers in both parties to allow deep-water drilling to resume," they add:

The economic and political environment has changed since the summer, when images of oil fouling Gulf beaches provoked outrage toward BP and rekindled worries about the safety of offshore oil drilling.

Since then, U.S. gasoline prices have risen to an average of more than $3 a gallon, unusually high for winter. Republicans, who are generally more supportive of the oil industry and domestic exploration, have regained control of one chamber of Congress.

  • BP Not Out of Woods Yet, states Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy. Investors are heartened by the fact that the report does not accuse BP of negligence, he explains, but the commission was actually barred from investigating BP's legal culpability. By accusing BP of a "failure of management," and stating that the accident was "avoidable" and "preventable," the report "contains much grist should the U.S. Department of Justice decide to level the gross negligence charge," LeVine says.
  • Commission Is Not Objective, asserts Robert L Cavnar at The Huffington Post:

The spill commission's conclusions, though not completely off base, are tainted by politics, lack of industry experience on the panel, and what I believe to be its effort to spread blame, not pinpoint it ...

In the meantime, oil continues to wash up on the beaches of Alabama and the wetlands of Louisiana. Thousands of businesses and workers continue to suffer all around the Gulf coast. The oil and gas industry continues to ignore its own complicity in this disaster and lobby for status quo. The [mainstream media] continues to ignore the massive economic and ecological damage in the Gulf since they are now focused on the size of Speaker Boehner's new gavel, Lindsay Lohan's most recent probation violation, and whose going to be on the next Dancing with the Stars.

  • Commission Abdicated Responsibility, claims Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. President Obama appointed the commission "to examine why the oil rig disaster in the Gulf happened and what could be done about it in the future," he explains. But "the commission has "abdicated that charter by blaming all parties involved" and, like all government investigations of man-made disasters, holding human judgment, a convenient scapegoat, responsible.
  • Report Has International Implications, says Stephen Beard at Marketplace. He explains that a U.K. Parliamentary inquiry, released Thursday, concluded that British regulation of offshore drilling is superior to the regulatory environment in which the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred, but that the U.K. should monitor whether the U.S. establishes "a new gold standard of regulation" that it should emulate.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.