Susan McGinnis spoke with two members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Donald Boesch, president of the Center for Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland, and Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. They discussed the details of the report and how they reached their conclusions.
The key chapter in the report says the April 2010 disaster uncovered systemic problems within the offshore oil industry and predicts that a similar accident could happen again if the industry and federal regulators don't undertake major reforms.
Key Republicans in Congress have said they will be skeptical of any recommendations that delay Gulf drilling, and that rising gasoline prices and dependence on foreign oil are the key issues to be addressed. But Beinecke says the panel's recommendations aren't intended to slow operations, they are intended to encourage a different approach. The first emphasis is on safety and on protecting the resources in the Gulf of Mexico. She says the explosion and spill were disastrous for not just the oil and gas industry but for other industries as well.
In response to criticisms of the panel's findings that the spill was evidence of systemic problems in the industry, Boesch says if the industry had gotten lax because of prior success with safety, that's a systemic problem. He says the global service companies that worked with BP on the project, Transocean and Halliburton, also work with other oil companies, so their failures could transfer to those projects as well. he also says his there were 79 "loss of well control" incidents in the Gulf over the last 15 years, and though none was as serious as the 2010 spill, they show a problem. He also says many companies do have an exemplary safety record, and they should not be painted with the same brush as the others whose records aren't as good. He says it's the responsibility of the companies with good safety records to make sure the other companies get in line.
Beinecke says the commission did recognize the overall safety record of many companies in the Gulf. She says the panel recognizes that the industry is very sophisticated and works in a challenging environment, and a minority of the 14,000 successful wells were in deep water, where the challenges are greater. She says the panel's general counsel spoke extensively to the three companies involved in the spill during the investigation as well as other companies around the world.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says he is disappointed that the commission did not find the answer to what he calls the fundamental question of what went wrong. But Boesch says that's incorrect. He says the report details, step by step, what went wrong. Co-chairman Bob Graham said he is concerned that Congress and won't go along with the recommendations. But Beinecke says the panel met with President Obama and delivered the report to him personally, and many of those recommendations can be implemented by executive order, without congressional approval. She says the panel made the recommendations based on what members think needs to happen, not the political makeup of Congress. Beinecke also says the recommendations are in the best interests of the industry, and if they want to get back to work, they should heed what the panel wants.
The co-chairmen of the panel, Graham and William Reilly, are due to testify soon before committees in both houses of Congress. Boesch says the group will take the same approach in both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate: Explain what they found and what they recommend to improve safety. He believes the industry will take the panel's recommendation to form a safety institute. If the recommendations aren't taken seriously, Beinecke says there are further risks to the Gulf, which the states it borders and their residents can't afford.
Boesch says the report is dedicated to the 11 men who were killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the best way to honor their memory is to prevent others from meeting the same fate.
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