Five months and one day before its Deepwater Horizon rig exploded while exploring the Macondo Prospect off the coast of Louisiana, BP's top Gulf of Mexico official testified its practices were "both safe and protective of the environment." In June, the U.S. Minerals Management Service proposed stricter safety and environmental rules, opposed by BP and the rest of the offshore drilling industry as unnecessary. In a Senate hearing on offshore drilling "environmental stewardship policies" on November 19, 2009, BP America's vice president of Gulf of Mexico exploration, David Rainey, opposed the proposed MMS rules and defended the existing regulatory system. Rainey claimed that drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has been shown to be "both safe and protective of the environment":
I think we should remember that scientific knowledge is always moving forward. And actually using the best available and the most up-to-date scientific information is part of the current regulatory system. And it supports the OCS leasing, exploration, and development program. And I think we need to remember that OCS has been going on for the last 50 years, and it has been going on in a way that is both safe and protective of the environment.
Rainey's testimony followed a September 14, 2009, letter from his predecessor Richard Morrison, which said "we are not supportive of the extensive and prescriptive regulations" in the proposed rule, because "[w]e believe industry's current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs" since the American Petroleum Institute codified those programs in 2004 "have been and continue to be very successful."
It appears that the MMS was correct when they argued in their proposed rule that existing safety rules were not sufficient. "The MMS believes that if OCS oil and gas operations are better planned and organized, then the likelihood of injury to workers and the risk of environmental pollution will be further reduced," they wrote in 2009.
Unanswered questions continue to spew out:
- Why did officials believe spill had stopped on April 23?
- What did BP spend $16 million lobbying Congress on last year?
- What was Halliburton's role?
- Why was BP a finalist in 2009 and 2010 for MMS's "outstanding safety and pollution prevention" awards?
- How widespread is BP's disregard for safety rules?
- Why didn't BP plan for a major spill?
BP is generally considered to be one of the safer companies out there, which is pretty scary considering we know what "safe" now looks like.
From the Wonk Room.