Sunday, December 17

Top U.s.official ‘frustrated’ by Failure of Oil Spill Cleanup

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nice to see that U.S. regulators are “frustrated” by the failure of oil giant BP to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from one of its wells, but it’s nothing short of astounding that the people who were supposed to be overseeing production by the oil companies operating in this country apparently weren’t doing so. Why else would the massive U.S. regulatory apparatus been caught so unprepared? Yes, the oil spill was an accident and is a tragedy of probably incalculable proportions. And yes, a gusher at such a depth — nearly a mile under the ocean — is unprecedented. But no one in the industry or at the regulatory agencies should be permitted to pretend that it should not have been anticipated. The oil industry — in this case, BP, formerly known as British Petroleum — had to apply to the government for permission to operate in the Gulf of Mexico, they had to offer production estimates and pay taxes and they had submit plans for the drilling and for how they were going to take care of any emergencies that were sure to result. What were those plans?

Where are those plans? If they didn’t include what to do in the event of an explosion on a drilling platform, as occurred in April on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform, what did they include? What about other companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico or elsewhere? Do they have such plans? Why not, if their plans included drilling at such depths? And, if not, will they be required to have them now? What we’re discussing, of course, is Sunday’s statement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that he no longer has confidence that BP officials “know exactly what they’re doing,” according to Cable News Network (CNN). Add to that comments by Marcia McNutt, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, that BP’s plans for stopping the gusher were probably infeasible.

“I think everyone has to understand that the kinds of operations they’re doing in the deep sea have never been done before,” McNutt told CNN. But the problem is not that “everyone” has to understand that — the problem is the regulators seem not to have understood it. Why even regulate oil production at all if obvious risks are not being planned for? Why have the regulators been doing all this time if we have to ask these questions now, when oil has begun washing up on some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and contaminating some of the country’s richest fishing and wildlife areas? If U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to revamp the federal government do not include better regulation of some of the country’s biggest and most vital industries, he had better start explaining why not.

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