Deep And Still Waters

After six months of work, the President’s commission on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has released its report, available in PDF format here.  If you have a slow Internet connection, be advised the report is 380 pages long.

As expected, the report condemns BP’s construction and management of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and calls upon the oil and gas industry to take “unilateral steps” to “increase dramatically [sic] safety throughout the industry.”  It also has some criticism for the Minerals Management Service, and while it does confront the history of corruption that has plagued the agency, it doesn’t go into the really spicy details about sex and drug parties that made the Interior Department’s 2008 inspection such lively reading.  Predictably, the report says one of the biggest problems with the MMS is that it’s underfunded.

Elaborate new regulations are called for, even as the report concedes the old regulations weren’t implemented very well.  There is also a recommendation for further scientific research in deep-water drilling environments, which seems like sound advice, especially after the astonishing discovery that undersea bacteria have been eating a lot of the spilled oil.  There’s a lot going on down there we don’t understand.

Implementing all these new regulations will require a titanic new bureaucracy, and the Commission wants to shut down virtually all oil and gas development until it’s in place.  Curiously, it wants to suppress drilling in the Arctic too, even though such operations have been conducted for half a century with an exemplary safety record.  These recommendations are reminiscent of the Big Government approach to airport security, or the nuttier legislative responses to the Tucson shooting: a big catastrophe occurred, so let’s take plenty of spectacular, expensive, high-profile measures that have nothing to do with the original problem. 

At one point, the report speaks of the “near certainty that the oil and gas industry will seek to expand into ever more challenging environments in the years ahead.”  If all the recommendations of this Commission are adopted, I wouldn’t be so certain of that… at least, not in American waters.

It’s telling that some of the recommendations directly applied to the Gulf, such as doubling the length of time for review before drilling permits are issued, or creating a new agency to oversee offshore drilling operations, would seem to have little to do with the stated causes of the Deepwater Horizon incident.  We already have an agency that reviews drilling applications and issues permits.  They didn’t run out of time while reviewing the Deepwater Horizon application.  Couldn’t we just insist they start doing their jobs properly, without throwing more money at them?

The report discusses “the emerging international challenge” of offshore drilling. Let’s be frank – this Administration’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster has made the character of offshore drilling much more international.  Forcing oil companies to drill off foreign shores does not enhance the ability of American authorities to enforce safety regulations.  We can ask for all sorts of “international cooperation,” but a government confident of its ability to manage offshore drilling should be doing everything it can to encourage oil companies to drill in America.

There’s a great deal of fascinating information about offshore drilling in the report, which clearly enjoyed first-class research from the Commission.  It’s recommended reading for anyone interested in how the Deepwater Horizon event occurred, and it includes some frank criticism of the government’s response.  It’s no surprise that the government would review its performance in the affair and conclude it should grow larger as a result of its mistakes.  It’s a well-known aspect of Big Government’s biology that it grows through failure, and generally faces budget cuts as the consequence of success.


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