Oil Spill Panel: Failures that Led to Disaster are 'Likely to Recur'


Photo credit: mikebaird via Flickr/CC BY

The presidential oil spill panel is gearing up to release its final report on the BP disaster, and it isn't pulling any punches. Chief among the findings is that one of the primary causes of the spill were "bad management" practices from all the companies involved, and a lack of good government oversight on drilling procedures. Few of the panel's findings will surprise anyone who has even cursorily followed the spill, but they serve as a final confirmation (and condemnation) that companies sought to cut costs and save time by skirting safety requirements, and ended up causing a devastating oil spill. And the report finds that they will likely do so again.The BBC reports that "In a chapter of its final report, to be published next week, the presidential commission said the failures were "systemic" and likely to recur. BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure safety, it found."

Again, hardly revelatory stuff for BP spill watchers. But the report leaves no doubt that a distinct culture of putting profits before safety had gripped not just BP, but each of the companies involved -- and very probably many companies engaged in deepwater drilling that weren't.

In a response to the statement, the three companies primarily involved in the spill -- Transocean, which owned the rig, Halliburton, which sealed the well, and BP, which oversaw the entire operation and is ultimately responsible -- each predictably issued statements seeking to deflect or diffuse the blame. Transocean and Halliburton maintained that they operated under the direction of BP, and BP said that "the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies."

Here are the primary failures identified by the report (via the BBC):

  • A flawed design for the cement used to seal the bottom of the well

  • A test of that seal identified problems but was "incorrectly judged a success"

  • The workers' failure to recognise the first signs of the impending blow-out

Also in the conclusion of their report, the presidential panel wrote the following: "Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blow-out clearly saved those companies significant time (and money)."

Okay, so the reports does pull some punches -- only a naif would reason that it was mere coincidence that these companies 'accidentally' skipped over expensive, time-consuming safety procedures. But the takeaway of this report shouldn't merely be to demonize BP for ignoring safety requirements in the name of profits -- it should be that all the companies drilling for oil in the gulf, which compete with one another, have had this pernicious attitude towards safety regulations inculcated into them: If Shell (or Chevron, or whoever) isn't following the flimsily enforced rules, why should BP -- it'd only serve as an extra cost that would cut into the company's bottom line.

Safety regulations needs to be powerful, strict, and the punishments for not abiding them feared -- and despite his tough talk, it's doubtful whether Obama will be able to put such rules in place. He has, after all, already let 13 companies engaged in offshore drilling slide on complying with his own policy. Frankly, the prospects of avoiding another such spill in the future aren't looking so promising.

More on the BP Gulf Spill
The 6 Crucial Errors that Led to the Deepwater Horizon Explosion
Oil Spill Blame Game Over: 60 Minutes Uncovers Severe BP Negligence
BP Slammed for Safety Failings in North Sea, Months Before Gulf Spill

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