Environmental Protection

Oil Spill Commission's Final Report: Systematic Failures in Risk Management

The European Union's energy commissioner, meanwhile, is watching the U.S. actions and will propose his own legislation soon.

The presidential commission created by President Obama to investigate last April's Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire, its sinking, and oil spill issued its final, 398-page report Tuesday, citing errors by the three main actors involved.

The report, which is dedicated to the 11 workers who died in the blast, says the explosive loss of the Macondo well could have been prevented, then states this conclusion: "The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry."

The panel called for reforming the government's oversight of offshore leasing, energy exploration, and production beyond what has already been announced as a result of the disaster. "Because regulatory oversight alone will not be sufficient to ensure adequate safety," they wrote, "the oil and gas industry will need to take its own, unilateral steps to increase dramatically safety throughout the industry, including self-policing mechanisms that supplement governmental enforcement. The technology, laws and regulations, and practices for containing, responding to, and cleaning up spills lag behind the real risks associated with deepwater drilling into large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. Government must close the existing gap and industry must support rather than resist that effort."

Neither the energy industry nor the government has been adequately prepared for the risks involved in deepwater production and exploration, the panel concluded, adding that both "can and must be prepared in the future."

The European Union's energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, and British safety authorities have been waiting for the panel to complete its investigation. Oettinger's spokeswoman said a legislative package will be developed that spells out the liability of energy companies for spills and the contingency plans they must maintain. It also will require oil companies to pay for repairing environment damage within a zone 200 nautical miles from a coastline after any accident.

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