A new report by Member Scholars of the Center for Progressive Reform on the principle cause of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill concludes that the spill was entirely preventable and points blame at regulatory agencies, BP and the oil industry for not being vigilant about warning signs. The study points its biggest finger at incredibly lax oversight by the now defunct government agency in charge of regulating offshore drilling, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) — which has been replaced by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. It notes that a policy of precautionary measures against known risks — however, slight — could have easily prevented the biggest environmental disaster in American history.
“BP is responsible for this disaster, without question,” said study co-author Alyson Flournoy, CPR Member Scholar and law professor at the University of Florida. “But the Minerals Management Service’s permissive approach to its regulatory responsibilities together with inadequate legislative mandates for safety and environmental protection, and Congress’s inadequate funding of MMS created an environment that allowed BP to take shortcuts with safety, with disastrous results.” The study goes on to say that instead of doing their own research into the best safety techniques for the industry to prevent disasters MMS just adopted the industry standard. Therefore, the industry wasn’t pushed by regulation to create new safer technology.
In addition to the lack of push for new technology and safety regulations, oversight of the existing standards was poor and ineffective. Fines levied to drilling companies for lack of compliance had a max cap of $35,000. The multi-billion dollar oil agencies scoffed at the fines and didn’t think twice about paying them — a $35,000 fine is a much better deal than paying millions to update your safety equipment. The failures of MMS reach back far before the Obama administration and range from blindly using the industry’s safety standards instead of making sure they were sufficient to ignoring National Environmental Policy Act laws that say you must “consider reasonably foreseeable significant adverse impacts—catastrophic ones, in particular—even when they are improbable.”
In addition to their lack of oversight remains a troubling realization, which came to light during the oil spill saga — the MMS had become nothing short of a disaster internally. The agency was rife with drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and mismanagement when President Obama took office and as he notes in his latest interview with Rolling Stone, he put Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on the task of cleaning up the agency even before the spill occurred. Needless to say, the clean up — of the agency, or the spill — didn’t happen as quickly as needed and now we know for sure that MMS and BP are to blame. Let’s hope the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement keeps the sex, drugs and rock and roll out of managing our precious coastal waters in the future. They’re currently on the task of creating new regulations and fines that will hopefully prevent these problems in the future.