Encouraging news that the panel tasked with investigating the disaster in the Gulf wants to actually get it right:
The co-chairman, William K. Reilly, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the first President Bush, also said it was unlikely that the panel would recommend the lifting of the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling before it completes its report. Such a move would require profound changes in industry practice and government oversight that cannot be done that quickly, Mr. Reilly said in his first extensive remarks on the commission’s work.
The oil industry, its supporters in Congress and Gulf Coast officials have called for swiftly lifting the moratorium, saying the ban was causing severe economic hardship and that drilling could resume safely under tighter interim rules. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and some other administration officials had given the industry hope that the ban would be lifted as soon as new regulations were in place.
But Mr. Reilly said that ending the moratorium would require that the industry adopt safer drilling techniques and that the government regulatory agencies, particularly the Minerals Management Service, a part of the Interior Department, be markedly strengthened.
Speed really isn’t of the essence when the consequences are as grave for the Gulf Coast region and its inhabitants. Bobby Jindal and his cohorts are stirring up a lot of populist fervor over the deepwater ban, which represents a loss of jobs. But the jobs cleaning and remaking the Gulf should actually more than make up for that; an early analysis showed a slight increase in GDP resulting. That’s of course no reason to drop millions of barrels of oil into the water, but the economic consequences of making sure drilling is safe and secure have been overblown.
It would be a far better use of time for Jindal and company to make sure BP will adequately fund compensation by rig workers idling because of the moratorium. Right now they’ve pledged $100 million dollars; but total deepwater compensation equals about $330 million a month.
That Reilly understands how inadequate the deepwater drilling emergency response and safety procedures are at this point, even while serving on the board of Conoco Phillips (one of the companies affected by the moratorium), perhaps shows his integrity, but we should remain wary. These public comments showed Reilly’s concern for a number of important subjects:
Mr. Reilly said he expected his group to examine the reliability of blowout preventers, the toxicity of dispersants, the quality and frequency of inspections, and the possible need for simultaneous relief wells in deep water.
All of these are good places to start. He may want to look at the actual enforcement of the moratorium as well.