US Spill commission hands down recommendations

Feb. 1, 2011
The word is spreading across the land:The Gulf of Mexico is a unique natural resource that provides Americans everywhere with food, energy, and jobs that are essential to the prosperity, security, and welfare of the nation.For too long the Gulf region has been treated as a place apart, a place to pay the price for and bear the risk of the United States’ costly dependence on oil.It is a national treasure, and needs to be treated like one, and the time to act is now. 

F. Jay Schempf
Contributing Editor

The word is spreading across the land:

  • The Gulf of Mexico is a unique natural resource that provides Americans everywhere with food, energy, and jobs that are essential to the prosperity, security, and welfare of the nation.
  • For too long the Gulf region has been treated as a place apart, a place to pay the price for and bear the risk of the United States’ costly dependence on oil.
  • It is a national treasure, and needs to be treated like one, and the time to act is now.

This is news?

Apparently so, at least to one member of President Barack Obama’s hand-picked panel of seven public figures who make up the National Commission on the BPDeepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The above points are faithful to statements in an article written by Frances Beineke, one of the commissioners, for news network CNN and published on Jan. 13, a day after the group released its final report to the president.

In addition to her commissionership, Ms. Beineke is president of the National Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based non-profit, international environmental advocacy group with offices in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing.

Similar epiphanic conclusions have percolated upward into the hearts and minds of those who were handed the responsibility for recommending what should be done in the aftermath of the “worst environmental disaster in U.S. history,” i.e., theDeepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf in April 2010.

Findings ‘telegraphed’

Actually, the panel’s overall conclusions held few surprises, since most of them already had been telegraphed by co-chairmen Bob Graham and William Reilly long before the final report was released.

Already reported out of the committee – along with the recognition of the GoM as a special region as noted above – are the following points:

  • The event could have been prevented
  • Deepwater exploration and production has risks for which neither the industry nor federal, state, and local government are prepared (a claim that is challenged by the industry)
  • Fundamental reform is necessary to assure human safety and environmental protection. Regulatory oversight of offshore leasing, exploration, and production needs reform in both structure and decision-making
  • Technology, laws, and regulations, as well as practices for containing, responding to, and cleaning up oil spills lags behind the risks associated with deepwater drilling. Government must close the gap and industry must support – rather than resist – the effort.

Also recommended is creation of an independent offshore safety and environmental science agency within the Interior Dept., commanded by a director appointed by the President, who would serve a multi-year term.

Rocks being rinsed off to remove oil either on or below them on the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Various new fees and increases in existing ones, all to be paid for by the industry, along with general mandates and requirements for operators, drilling companies, and other offshore service providers to mitigate risk, particularly for deepwater operations, are showered throughout the suggested reforms.

The ‘personal’ side

Included in the printed report are scores of personal stories of victims of the incident and its oil spill aftermath, illustrating – time after time – their financial, domestic, and mental suffering. These apparently emanated from stories told by Gulf Coast residents in testimony before commissioners during regional public meetings.

What happens next?

A lot of the commission’s findings mirror those already made by various members of the Obama cabinet, particularly Interior Sec. Ken Salazar and his point man Michael Bromwich, director of BOEMRE, the successor to the MMS. Bromwich, with extremely broad powers, already has instituted – using presidential mandate – a number of sweeping reforms in regulation of the offshore petroleum industry. The EPA, too, is more active with regard to GoM environmental matters, and literally scores of commissions, congressional committees and various scientific groups working under federal authorization have jumped with all feet into the mix.

From the oil spill committee’s report, it is evident that the scientific community could well become much more active in the oversight of offshore activities, including permitting and drilling operations.

All in all, everything suggested by the committee, if enacted, would cost a great deal of money. A portion of it would certainly come from the petroleum industry as an added cost for the privilege of drilling in US waters. However, from where the lion’s share of the cost would come remains to be seen, given that federal and state government treasuries are hard pressed these days.

And who will be in charge of such spending, should it come about? It’s anyone’s guess. But it’s a safe bet that all the organizations and politicians and multiple interests involved would, and will, be vying for their shares of the authority to spend it.

In any case, the overriding hope is that the long-suffering US GoM will be the eventual prime beneficiary.

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