Oil-Spill Panel Calls for New Federal Safety Body
A new agency in the Dept. of Interior should be created to oversee and ensure the safety offshore oil and gas operations, according to the report released on Jan. 11 by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
The call for the new agency—which would be completely separate from a Dept. of the Interior division that would oversee the leasing of offshore tracts for the U.S. government—was one of about 15 recommendations that the presidential appointed commission made in a comprehensive 398-page document examining causes of the April 20 spill, which left 11 workers dead, and recommending solutions to prevent such occurrences in the future.
The spill “did not have to happen. It was foreseeable and preventable,” said former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), co-chairman of the commission, in a press conference releasing the report.
After the April 20 disaster, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reorganized MMS into a new department, called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
But Graham and panel co-chairman William Reilly said that the separation does not go far enough because all divisions of BOEMRE still report to the same undersecretary of Interior.
The commission said that new division would be “walled off” and its director would be appointed to a five- or six-year term, as a protection from political pressures. The Interior Dept. had not responded to calls for comment at presstime.
The commission is also recommending that DOI adopt a risk-based management approach, in which each well and rig be assessed on an individual basis.
The commission is recommending an industry-led safety organization, similar to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations that was created after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.
Additionally, the commission is recommending that Congress should dedicate 80% of the Clean Water Act penalties related to the spill to the long-term restoration to the Gulf of Mexico.
Graham and Reilly said that the culture of safety in oil companies and in the government must be improved.
“If dramatic steps are not taken, I am afraid that another failure,” will occur, said Graham.
The American Petroleum Institute and the National Ocean Industries Association both said that they were still examining the report, but that they were opposed to commission�s conclusion that the problems were industry wide.