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Cheney, Lax Regulation Lead to Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe?

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This is no longer hot news, but a number of outlets have reported on how intentionally weak regulation created the conditions in which the disastrous British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became inevitable.

ProPublica takes a close look at the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). This is the agency that oversees oil drilling, offshore and on, and it turns out to be an organization with a troubled past.
Check out this New York Times piece about the MMS:

In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department’s inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes.

And that’s not the end of MMS funny business:

According to an audit earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office, the regulator has hardly been a straight shooter [6] on offshore drilling and the risks involved. The GAO found that MMS withheld data on offshore drilling in Alaska from regional staff members at the agency involved in environmental analyses. The report also found that MMS lacked sufficient guidelines to properly analyze the risks of drilling in the region.

It should therefore surprise no one when ProPublica cites a Wall Street Journal report that:

…the oil rig lacked a device—known as an acoustic control—that would’ve served as a safeguard of last resort [3]. While the effectiveness of the $500,000 device is debated, the Journal points out that it is used by other oil-producing nations, including Brazil and Norway. Regulators in the U.S. were also considering requiring it a few years ago, but after industry objections decided that the devices were expensive and needed more study.

ProPublica also says that it has spoken with people in the oil industry who defend MMS and is waiting for a response from the agency itself.
In a separate but related piece, ProPublica reports on BP’s sketchy safety record:

BP, the global oil giant responsible for the fast-spreading spill in the Gulf of Mexico that will soon make landfall, is no stranger to major accidents.
In fact, the company has found itself at the center of several of the nation’s worst oil and gas–related disasters in the last five years.

Meanwhile, the climate science website Climate Progress compares BP to Goldman Sachs in its ability to create chaos for all in the name of profit for a few:

Limit government, we’re told. Big companies will police themselves because the potential loss in revenue and reputation is motivation enough, we’re told. The predictable result is Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy, and BP.
If you Google ‘British Petroleum cited violations‘ you get 192,000 hits. One of the most revealing is “MMS Records Show BP Has Previous Deepwater Violations”.

There’s more of course. Read the whole thing. It’s scary.

Alex Pareene at Salon.com gets up close and personal and assigns a large share of the blame to Dick Cheney (ptui):

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill could end up being the worst American man-made environmental catastrophe of this generation. With the oil still spilling and investigations into the causes yet to come, it’s too early to neatly assign blame to any one person. But for now, let’s hold Dick Cheney personally responsible for the whole thing.
Here’s the evidence: The Wall Street Journal reports that the oil well didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch. The reason it didn’t have a thing that it seems every single offshore drilling rig should have? According to environmental lawyer Mike Papantonio, it’s because Dick Cheney’s energy task force decided that the $500,000 switches were too expensive, and they didn’t want to make BP buy any.

The Wapo informs us that more recently, during the Obama Administration, in fact,

…the Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.
The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

And back to the top.

There’s plenty more coverage where this stuff came from of course. The take away obviously is that this was a disaster waiting – no, demanding – to happen, and there are more waiting unless drastic action is taken. Holding breath commences in 5, 4, ……

Written by slothropia

May 6th, 2010 at 12:13 pm