Oil Spill Commission Co-Chair Startled By Federal Rig Inspectors’ Lack of Formal Training and Lack of Knowledge of Underwater Drilling Operations


You’ll never believe what federal drilling rig inspectors told President Obama’s oil spill commission? Try this from the commission co-chair: “When we asked about cementing and centralizers, they said very freely, ‘We don’t know about that stuff; we have to trust the companies,'” William Reilly said. “All they get is on-the-job training. It really is fairly startling, considering how sophisticated the industry has become. And the inspectors themselves are quite aware of their needs.”

Please tell me you’re kidding? We have to trust the companies? Sounds like a great deal for Big Oil, and a really bad deal for, well, just about everybody else.

When big news breaks from the various BP spill investigations, like the presidential commission, we can sometimes overlook other important stories in those same transcripts. It’s a good thing that David Hammer at the Times-Picayune is digging a bit deeper. The reporter doesn’t frame it as such, but this is the best argument I’ve seen for re-installing that oil moratorium until the feds get their act together.

Writes Mr. Hammer: “Asked about his inspectors’ lack of knowledge about underwater drilling operations, Michael Bromwich, head of the Interior Department’s revamped offshore regulatory agency, acknowledged that training is an issue. He said his Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement wants to address the problem as it seeks to add 200 new inspectors, engineers and environmental scientists to its ranks.”

Talk about the “ready, fire, aim!” mentality. If you want to illustrate the “hurry-up, mission accomplished, what oil?” attitude of our federal policymakers – the same ones who helped get us into this mess with those cozy relationships with Big Oil and lax enforcement – then this is a prime example. Why not get the 200 new inspectors on board BEFORE turning the industry loose again?

As it turns out, all the formal training in the world may not have helped avoid this disaster, because federal inspectors didn’t actually review drilling operations. And they let the companies know when they were coming to inspect.

I’ll close with this from the Times-Picayune report: “As for the MMS [federal government] inspectors who actually visited the rigs once a month, they were not required to view any drilling operations, and inspectors told the inspector general’s surveyors that rig crews often chose to stop key work while the inspectors were visiting. What’s more, they rarely made unannounced visits, inspectors said in the survey.”

Read how your government goes about protecting our health and environment here (and remember this is the same government opening fishing areas and swearing that Gulf seafood is as safe as can be – warning, it’s not reassuring): http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/10/oil_rig_inspectors_had_vast_ga.html

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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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