Report: Root Causes of Gulf Oil Spill "Might Well Recur" Without Reform

"[M]embers of both parties should put politics aside an act to dramatically improve drilling safety and practices."

01-06-2011 // Max Greenberg
Leilani Munter

The causes of last April's Macondo oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico were "systemic" and "might well recur" without proper reform and oversight, according to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

An advanced chapter (PDF) of the commission's final report released on Wednesday highlighted managerial negligence at many levels surrounding the eight-month-old spill, but also made clear that "aberrational decisions" were not to blame for the disaster. Rather, it was a well-ingrained culture of respect for profit over safety.

“The oil industry has spent all week trying to spin us away from the obvious conclusion of this report – that the industry has invested far more in the technology to drill for oil than it has in any mechanism to stop oil from gushing once a blowout occurs," said National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger. "All the protection it could offer to the Gulf’s fishing grounds and endangered species was a string of flimsy boom – the same technology that failed the people and wildlife of Alaska’s Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez disaster."

The report stresses that the need for reform does not rest on one entity, and that the immediate causes of the spill "[w]ere rooted in systemic failures by industry management (extending beyond BP to contractors that serve many in the industry), and also by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling." Past efforts to address these failures didn't go far enough, as moves to "expand regulatory oversight, tighten safety requirements, and provide funding to equip regulators with the resources, personnel, and training needed to be effective were either overtly resisted or not supported by industry, members of Congress, and several administrations."

Last July, the National Wildlife Federation reported that oil and gas disasters are common, with oil and gas industry negligence accounting for "hundreds of deaths, explosions, fires, seeps, and spills as well as habitat and wildlife destruction" in the U.S. alone between 2000 and 2010.

Now, with Congress having set a spill liability cap of just $75 million despite clear industry carelessness, it is clear that the American drilling system "privatizes the profit and socializes the risk," according to Schweiger.

“The oil commission report makes clear that Congress, the Obama administration and the industry have much work to do before Americans can be assured that drilling can be conducted safely. Just as this commission worked in a nonpartisan way, members of both parties should put politics aside an act to dramatically improve drilling safety and practices,” he said.

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