photo: US Coast Guard via flickr.
It somehow boggles the mind, doesn't it? But you're reading the title correctly. BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig was exempted from having an detailed environmental impact study done by the Department of Interior last year. The Washington Post looked at federal documents and found that the department's Mineral Management Service have the project a "categorical exclusion" from review, something which BP had been lobbying for more broadly just prior to the explosion that kicked of this series of tragic events. Based on the Post piece, it seems the MMS really didn't consider that a disaster such as this is the Gulf was either likely, or would have much impact if it did occur:
In one assessment, the agency estimated that "a large oil spill" from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a "deepwater spill," occurring "offshore of the inner Continental shelf," would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.
Hundreds of Projects Exempted Annually
Lest this seem like a one-off occurrence or even something more sinister--figures in the $77,000 range of BP's contributions to President Obama in his campaigns for senator and president--keep in mind that the Department of Interior grants waivers to 250-400 projects a year in the Gulf.
It's perhaps cold comfort to know that Interior has now just established a board specifically to look at safety procedures for offshore drilling.
Is Salazar Himself to Blame?
At least some environmental groups are laying the blame straight on the head of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity:
Secretary Salazar has utterly failed to reform the Mineral Management Service. Instead of protecting the public interest by conducting environmental reviews, his agency rubber stamped BP's drilling plan, just as it does hundreds of others every year in the Gulf of Mexico. The Minerals Management Service has gotten worse, not better, under Salazar's watch.
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More on the BP Oil Spill:
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events
How Will the BP Oil Spill Affect Critically Endangered Bluefin Tuna?
Rush Limbaugh on the BP Oil Spill: "It's as natural as the ocean water is."