The GOP practically asks for another Deepwater Horizon


The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf five years ago sure exposed a lot of holes in the current system. By that, I certainly mean holes in our system of environmental regulations, as BP was allowed to get away with all kinds of risky cost-cutting maneuvers during the drilling process, right up to the explosion that killed 11 people and spewed more than 4 million barrels of crude oil into the precious Gulf ecosystem.

But I’m also talking about the aftermath of the spill, and the glaring gaps in our political system that have been laid bare over the course of the 2010s. It started with a cover-up, when our federal government practically served as co-conspirators in allowing a British oil company to lie about how much oil was leaking from the damaged rig and then allowing the firm to spray massive quantities of a highly toxic dispersant to try to make that oil disappear. Perhaps even more criminal, a federal commission then recommended numerous steps to bring offshore oil drilling safety into the 21st Century, and yet despite the passage of time little has become of these common-sense proposed safety measures.

The one idea that seemed most fundamental to making sure there isn’t a second Deepwater Horizon-type disaster: Improving both the design and the monitoring of the device known as the blowout preventer, which didn’t do its job in April 2010. Given the environmental carnage caused by the BP oil spill, how controversial could that idea be? The problem, apparently, is that we’re not thinking like the Republicans who control Congress:

NEW ORLEANS — Republican lawmakers on Tuesday criticized an Obama administration move to toughen standards for offshore drilling, saying the new rules would be costly for drillers and threaten to shut down oil and gas exploration off the nation’s coasts.

The Interior Department is preparing to issue standards to close what it says are gaps in blowout preventer rules. A blowout preventer is a piece of equipment designed to shut an out-of-control well. Such a device failed catastrophically when a BP well blew out in 2010, causing a massive oil spill.

But the Republicans blasted the new rules at a field hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in New Orleans. No Democratic members showed up.

The Republicans complained the rules are too government-driven and costly to industry. The Republicans also questioned whether the new rules would make drilling safer. They also argued that drillers have proven they’re safe under current regulations.

Besides aiming to strengthen blowout preventers, the rules require more record keeping by drillers, force companies to do real-time monitoring of drilling operations and take steps to dig safer wells. The rules are expected to be phased in over years.

BP has paid out countless billions of dollars in damages in the Deepwater Horizon affair — in good part because of the failure of the blowout preventer at that rig, which all happened because the company was always looking to cut corners save a few bucks at the expense of safety. Now, the Republican allies of Big Oil in Congress are arguing that new rules — which could have prevented the agony that BP caused not only to the Gulf but, for what it’s worth, to itself — are too “onerous”? Give me a break!

I should add that it’s a little disturbing that Democratic members of Congress didn’t show up. This is an important issue — especially for those of us along the Gulf. The 2010 BP oil spill was a tragedy. But to learn nothing from those mistakes, and to risk a second catastrophe, is a political farce.

Read more about the Republican assault on proposed safety regulations:

Find out more about a lifetime of fighting Big Oil on the Gulf Coast in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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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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