President Obama’s oil spill commission has released its final report on the disaster, and those who put the analysis together certainly had a few interesting things to say. (Of course a lot of other people have things to say as well.) A full copy of the report can be downloaded here, and hard copies are said to be available at the Government Printing Office in case you want to bring it along on your next vacation. If you have neither the time to read it, nor the inclination to spend your relaxing vacation on such an activity, here are five things that I've taken away from the report and the coverage of the report since its release earlier this week.
1. The spill was clearly preventable in the eyes of the chairman
Bob Graham, co-chairman of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, said, "A fundamental finding of our six-month investigation is that the Deepwater Horizon disaster did not have to happen. It was both foreseeable and preventable." The other co-chairman, Bill Reilly, was eager to spread the blame. "None of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety — not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices, kept pace with the push into deep water," he said. Reilly went on to add this comforting nugget: “In effect, our nation was entirely unprepared for an inevitable disaster."
2. New agency and more government inspectors needed
Reilly’s role on the seven-member commission wasn’t just to throw bombs and blame. There were several recommendations in the report. The first and simplest of the recommendations was that Congress increase funding so that more government inspectors can be on site more often and inspect the rigs in greater detail. Reilly said it was time for Congress "to exercise serious oversight" in a regime that has not kept pace with the industry's push into deeper and deeper waters.” The commission’s report explicitly points to a lack in investigative strength in the Minerals Management Services’ arsenal leading up to the disaster. From the report: “The Minerals Management Service did not receive predictable and adequate funding needed to effectively oversee offshore drilling. Over the past 20 years, the MMS budget for leasing, environmental protection, and regulatory oversight decreased or remained relatively static while deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico expanded dramatically.”
Along with the increased numbers of inspectors, the commission made a recommendation to set aside a separate investigative body to deal with offshore drilling. “Congress and the administration should create an independent safety agency within the Department of the Interior, headed by an official shielded from political interference by a fixed term."
3. Industry should have it’s own regulatory arm
Another recommendation from the panel calls for offshore energy producers to have their own safety enforcement regulatory arm. “The oil and gas industry should establish a safety institute," the report stated. The safety institute would be similar to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operation, according to the report and be funded by the industry. The purpose of this agency would be “aimed at developing, adopting, and enforcing standards of excellence to ensure continuous improvement in safety and operational integrity offshore.”
4. Big energy companies not pleased, but still making profits
A Reuters report revealed that following the commission’s findings, anger from the drilling and extracting industry began to spew. "This does a great disservice to the thousands of men and women who work in the industry and have the highest personal and professional commitment to safety," said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute. This doesn’t exactly jive with the language from another finding in the commission’s report that states, “The oil and gas industry must adopt a culture of safety. Today, each company has its own view of what constitutes ‘safe operations.’ ” The recommendation went on to point out how the oil and gas industry pales in comparison to other high-risk industries. “Much as the aviation, chemical, and nuclear power industries have done in response to disasters, the oil and gas industry must move towards developing a notion of safety as a collective responsibility,” the report stated.
The aforementioned Reuters story also quotes a Deutsche Bank executive who says the recommendations from the report will hurt the industry. "The broadness of these recommendations and lack of specifics will delay activity," said Paul Sankey. However, that same report states that the PHLX oil service index increased more than 2 percent the day the report was released and that, “Cameron International Corp., which made the blowout preventer on the BP well, drove the equipment sector index higher with gains of more than 4 percent in afternoon trading. BP added nearly 3 percent, while Halliburton gained 3.2 percent and Transocean rose 2.3 percent.”
5. Congressional action will be grudge match
In the aftermath of the commission’s findings, it seems Republicans and Democrats have taken two different tones when it comes to next steps. Is anyone surprised? Democrats Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have already gone on the record with their planned courses of action. Menendez says he will introduce a bill to remove the current $75 million liability cap for oil companies related to the economic damages caused by a spill. Markey struck a more partisan tone saying, "Some key Republican leaders previously have said that we should wait for the results of this investigation before passing legislation to respond. The results are now in, and now it is time for action.”
Of course, Markey’s thoughts are hardly endorsed by those across the aisle. Rep. Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, used the report to take a few shots of his own. “Neither this nor any investigation should be used as political justification for a pre-determined agenda to limit affordable energy options for America,” Upton said in a press release. Upton went on to tout the idea that we should be using our own energy as opposed to the energy of foreign countries. “It would be a mistake to conclude that our only path forward is to cede our energy future to foreign corporations and governments who do not share our commitment to safe, responsible resource development."
So basically both sides were able to use the report to repeat their talking points.