This week, President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released its long-awaited report, spelling out the verdict for deepwater oil drilling for years to come. More and better regulations are needed to increase safety in the industry and prevent another similar oil spill. Surprise!
Who would have thought that a commission composed of a majority of members lacking the scientific and engineering experience to properly analyze the oil spill, but who exhibit obvious biases having either stated publicly their opposition to drilling or being members of organizations that oppose offshore drilling, would reach such an unexpected conclusion?
Irony aside, there are various problems with the report’s conclusion that warrant a critical review. William O’Keefe at the George C. Marshall Institute writes:
In the commissions report made public Tuesday, conflicting notions are revealed that represent a textbook example of cognitive dissonance.
[…]On the one hand, the commission faults BP and its contractors for the April 20, 2010, explosion, citing incredible incompetence in at least nine specific decisions, most of which can be traced back to a single overarching failure, a failure of management.
Commission members then use BP’s bad decisions to claim systemic failures on the part of the entire petroleum industry. Yet, these are two irreconcilable positions. The fatal flaws individuals committed on the Macondo well stand out because they so starkly contrast with the standards and processes to which those in the industry on other wells so rigorously adhere.
Demonstrating the safety of oil drilling onshore and offshore, O’Keefe cites the number of existing wells and highlights the misleading comparisons opponents of oil extraction make:
Obama’s panel fails to reconcile its broad conclusions about all firms in our offshore exploration sector and the fact that between 1969 and last spring operators drilled more than 50,000 offshore wells without a serious production accident.
Though opponents attempt to trivialize the successful track record by noting firms have drilled only 43 deep-water wells in the Gulf, the figure grows to more than 14,000 when including deep- water projects around the globe.
These facts are further evidence that BPs Deepwater Horizon disaster stands as an exception rather than a rule.
An examiner editorial further highlights the inconsistency of on the one hand concluding that regulators were captured by the industry in addition to lacking the expertise to effectively enforce regulation, and the report’s conclusion that more regulators and regulations are therefore the answer to preventing another large oil spill:
Among its many recommendations, the commission proposed creation of an entirely new independent federal agency to oversee all offshore oil and gas drilling. The commission didn’t bother to explain how yet another new federal bureaucracy would do a better job than the multiple agencies and offices within the Departments of Interior, Defense, Commerce and Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency that for decades have been involved in federal regulation of offshore drilling. The commission also recommended more costly studies of existing procedures and regulations, hiring more outside industrial safety experts and environmental consultants to recommend new procedures and regulations, and creating a fresh crop of offices within existing departments and agencies, and approving bigger budgets for inspection and enforcement.
This disaster which came as a shock to BP and everyone else following the reports of oil gushing into the gulf, will certainly serves as a reminder to other companies engaged in deepwater oil extraction to continuously enhance their safety capabilities and procedures. The costs from this disaster in addition to the ongoing lawsuits brought against BP will serve as a much stronger incentive to BP and other companies to review and improve drilling safety than regulators, naturally subject to political pressures, ever could.