The Presidential Oil Spill Commission has released their final report on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The essential conclusion, if you don’t have the time to read the whole 396-page report, was this:
The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.
Basically, they see the problems that manifested on the Deepwater Horizon well to be systemic, and ensuring the safety of rig workers and the US coastline depends on overhauling the industry completely. Their recommendations, in short, fall along the lines of:
A. Improving the Safety of Offshore Operations
B. Safeguarding the Environment
C. Strengthening Oil Spill Response, Planning, and Capacity
D. Advancing Well-Containment Capabilities
E. Overcoming the Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Spill and Restoring the Gulf
F. Ensuring Financial Responsibility
G. Promoting Congressional Engagement to Ensure Responsible Offshore Drilling
Among the highlights:
• New regulatory apparatus at the Interior Department. Some of this is already in place, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management taking over the provision of leases for offshore drilling. But the OSC finds that inadequate, and wants the department to separate the entity that provides the leases (the Leasing and Environmental Science Office) with the entity that provides oversight for the drilling industry (the Offshore Safety Authority). They also seek better resources and manpower for the Interior Department, a stable and secure funding source for all agencies involved in management and oversight of offshore drilling, and an accurate assessment of the risks of offshore drilling before committing more rigs to the ocean.
• Industry pays. The commission recommends that the industry pay for the cost of expanding regulations, similar to how the nuclear industry funds increased regulation and self-policing entities. The OSC also wants the industry to develop their own comprehensive offshore drilling safety program that they would be required to follow. Currently, there is no safety approach, and as a result decisions on the Macondo well were made virtually on the fly.
• Adding requirements for environmental science review. they want to strengthen the science behind the offshore leasing program, and using the expertise of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the process. Maybe this would be a good time to move NOAA into the Interior Department, rather than having it stuck in the Commerce Department. The OSC believes the industry should pay for these enhanced science reviews as well.
• Restoring the Gulf. This mirrors Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plan for Gulf restoration, improving the coastal and marine habitat for the future. The OSC wants to dedicate 80% of the penalties paid under the Clean Water Act to this goal.
• Lifting the liability cap. The Democrats attempted on numerous occasions to lift the liability cap for oil spills from the current $75 million rate, but found themselves stymied by a variety of factors. Now the OSC recommends lifting the cap “significantly” as well, to make industry pay for their own disasters.
• Specific planning in the event of a spill. The OSC wants a specific plan and procedure for responding to a “Spill of National Significance,” rather than the ad hoc way it was carried out recently. This would engage local entities as well as the federal government in a unified plan.
• No berms. I’ll just copy this one out: “The Coast Guard should issue guidance to establish that offshore barrier berms and similar dredged barriers generally will not be authorized as an oil spill response measure in the National Contingency Plan or any Area Contingency Plan.” This is the “never listen to Bobby Jindal” recommendation.
• Better access to response zone for independent review. Reacting to the criticism that independent scientists were not allowed to research the area in the midst of the disaster, this recommendation would mandate that the Coast Guard provide access for that research.
• More Congressional oversight. Basically adding a subcommittee to investigate offshore drilling.
Frances Beinecke of the NRDC, a member of the commission, writes at the Huffington Post:
These and all the recommendations in the commission’s report can help prevent or prepare for another deepwater disaster. But only if we turn these recommendations into concrete change.
And we must do it soon, because the painful impacts of this spill persist. Nine months have passed since the blowout, and the rest of the nation has returned to business as usual, but I can assure you that many in the Gulf have not [...]
The Gulf of Mexico is not a national sacrifice zone. It is a unique natural resource that provides Americans with food, energy, and jobs that are essential to the prosperity and security of the nation. We need, all of us, a healthy Gulf. The nation depends on it.
Harry Reid immediately took the initiative from this report. He asserted that the recommendations fall in line with what Democrats tried to pass late last year. “The White House, Congress and even the oil industry must work together to pass bipartisan legislation that will prevent and contain a similar environmental disaster and support continued efforts to restore the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast.” He vowed to take action this year.