Oil spill investigator blasts industry culture
By DARREN GOODE
The Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan presidential commission investigating the Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Thursday he has seen “indisputable evidence of a widespread lack of serious preparation, of planning, of management” in the oil and gas industry.
“That culture must change,” said William Reilly at the final public session of the Obama administration’s BP spill commission.
Three companies — BP, Halliburton and Transocean — “were fully implicated in the catastrophe,” Reilly said, while other companies “had no effective containment preparations and laughable response plans.”
Reilly, the Environmental Protection Agency chief under President George H.W. Bush, added: “We are not dealing here with a sick or failing or unsuccessful industry but with a complacent one.”
The Gulf spill began April 20 when BP’s Macondo well ruptured 5,000 feet below the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean. Halliburton was contracted by BP to handle cementing work on the well.
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling is holding its sixth and final two-day public session Thursday and Friday before submitting recommendations to President Barack Obama in January. The commission Thursday is hearing presentations from staff and deliberating on the safety culture in the offshore drilling industry, regulatory oversight, environmental review, drilling in the Arctic and oil spill response.
While the three companies have largely fired shots at one another, much of the commission’s probe has looked at the cementing work Halliburton did on the well and whether the company and BP adequately ensured that the cement used was adequately tested. BP’s well design has also come under scrutiny, as has why the well’s blowout preventer — the last defense against a blowout — failed.
Commission Co-chairman and former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) echoed in his opening remarks that the panel has learned “not to lay blame on just a few rogue companies,” while noting the probe has also uncovered “fundamental weaknesses” in the federal government’s ability to regulate and oversee oil and gas exploration and production.
Graham added that he remains “mystified as to why a few senators decided to deny this commission this power when subpoena power has been granted as almost an absolute for congressional commissions which have analogous responsibilities to ours.”
He added that the lack of subpoena power “has made our commission’s work more difficult.” The success of the panel so far, Graham said, “is a testament both to the determination and [to the] skill of our team and to the plain fact that the problems and deficiencies of the current safety regime are so egregious.”
Republican senators — upset over the makeup of the seven-member panel and the lack of a panel whose members are selected by Congress — have opposed granting subpoena power to the panel appointed by Obama. The House has twice approved granting the panel subpoena.