Lax Oil Industry Regulation Is “No Surprise” But the Extent of the Lapses Is Becoming a Big Concern


Just as we lament the departure of national media from the BP Oil Spill story, along comes the Wall Street Journal with one of those “wow!” reports that shows some of the national reporters continue to cover this disaster. The WSJ reports on the near-absence of surprise inspections of deepwater drilling rigs.

Such inspections, with their obvious deterrent value for those who would cut corners, dropped to about three a year while unannounced inspections of those “production platforms” since 2004 fell to a jaw-dropping “zero.” The Russell Gold story is the latest indictment of the government’s lax regulation.

It even reminds us that Congress is considering a law to make it a federal crime to tip off companies that “surprise” inspections are coming – although that proposal was sparked by lax enforcement at coal mines. The story is, of course, important, but it’s also an example of what happens when reporters go beyond the usual sources and find somebody who hasn’t gotten the talking-points memo yet.

Reports Mr. Gold: “But officials with the MMS, recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, say surprise inspections were a low priority in deepwater energy operations. ‘It was not what anybody wanted,’ said Elmer P. Danenberger III, the longtime head of the agency’s offshore regulatory programs who retired in December. Mandatory annual inspections of 3,800 offshore facilities, responding to hurricane and collecting royalties were deemed more urgent, he said.”

This isn’t the sort of story that brings eye-popping cable news coverage, but my guess is this is one of those stories that contributes to the national narrative: The government, the same one that we’re hoping gets it right with seafood safety and environmental damages, has a conspicuously lax history with oil companies.

Read how much so here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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