Government, industry unprepared for risks: BP spill report

Washington – The systematic failures that led to the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion point to the oil and gas industry and the government being unprepared for the risks involved in deepwater energy exploration, a new report said.

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling on Jan. 11 released its final report (.pdf file) on the disaster, which killed 11 workers. The nearly 400-page report follows a six-month effort to determine how and why the deadly blast occurred.

Co-chaired by former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator William K. Reilly, the commission did not point to a single reason for the Macondo well blowout. Instead, it spread the blame among the companies involved, the industry as a whole and the government.

Years of financial benefits with no major crises in the industry leading up to the blowout resulted in a false sense of security, and investments in safety and response equipment did not keep pace with movement into deepwater drilling, according to the report.

"There are recurring themes of missed warning signals, failure to show information and a general lack of appreciation for the risks involved," the commission said.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization representing oil and gas companies, took issue with the fact that a "single incident" should cast doubt on the entire industry. In a statement, Washington-based API said the industry has taken several steps to improve safety and the organization is developing a safety program for deepwater operations.

The commission questioned API's role in developing industry safety standards. Despite its expertise, API's ability to serve as a "reliable standard-setter" is compromised by its role as the industry's principal lobbyist and advocate, according to the report. For years, API has fought against regulatory approaches – such as a safety and environmental management system – that exist elsewhere in the world, the report stated.


As originally reported by Safety+Health, the commission stressed that both the industry and government need to take steps to improve safety in offshore operations. Among the report's recommendations:

  • Creation of a new enforcement agency within the Department of the Interior to oversee offshore drilling safety
  • An industry safety institute to supplement government oversight, similar to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations
  • Regulation of offshore activity that includes risk assessment and risk management practices

The commission was established May 22 by President Barack Obama. For more on the report, read the March issue of Safety+Health.

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