BP Oil Spill Commission Chief Counsel Blames BP Instead of Entire Industry

Deepwater HorizonOn Thursday, Fred Bartlit, Chief Counsel of the BP Oil Spill Commission, issued a report in which he put blame squarely on BP for the disaster, including a failure to adequately supervise its Halliburton and Transocean subcontractors.

The seven-member Commission, appointed by President Obama before the well had even been capped, issued its “final” report on January 11. Although it cited many of the same BP-specific problems detailed by Bartlit, it implicated the entire oil and gas exploration and production industry, and called for “systemic reforms.”

The Commission’s membership included prominent environmentalists who opposed offshore drilling even before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, such as Frances G. Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. By blaming the entire industry, it reinforced flawed policy responses, like the Gulf-wide moratorium on drilling.

As Co-Chair William K. Reilly claimed:

Our investigation shows that a series of specific and preventable human and engineering failures were the immediate causes of the disaster. But, in fact, this disaster was almost the inevitable result of years of industry and government complacency and lack of attention to safety. This was indisputably the case with BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, as well as the government agency charged with regulating offshore drilling-the former Minerals Management Service. As drilling pushes into ever deeper and riskier waters where more of America’s oil lies, only systemic reforms of both government and industry will prevent a similar, future disaster. (emphasis added)

The moratorium has been more damaging than the spill itself for ordinary people in the Gulf region, and has punished safe operators for BP’s sins.

In his new report, Bartlit does not sugarcoat the problems on BP’s Macondo rig, calling the blowout “an entirely preventable disaster.” His makes public for the first time information that undercuts some of the excuses BP has publicly cited for the disaster. For instance, BP was well aware of severe problems with Halliburton’s work on the rig prior to the spill but failed to deal with them.  BP would later try to blame Halliburton.

Also, the blowout preventer would not have stopped the blowout, even if it worked perfectly. By the time it was activated, the explosion was already inevitable.

Bartlit’s report is actually styled as an elaboration of the chapter in the Commission’s “final” report. It is unclear whether the information it contains was available on January 11, or why it is being released now. Bartlit offers only this vague explanation:

The Chief Counsel is issuing this additional report to provide the American public, policymakers, and industry with the fullest possible account of the investigation into the causes of the well blowout which was summarized in the Commission’s report. The Chief Counsel’s investigative team unearthed and analyzed far more information than could have been included in the Commission’s report.

The January 11 “final” report was 380 pages long. It is hard to see how more material could not have been added. Could it be that the Bartlit information was so damaging to BP that it would tend to undercut the Commission’s conclusion of “systemic” problems?

In Too DeepA new book titled In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took it Down sheds light on whether the spill resulted from shortcomings at BP or from something “systemic.” Authors Bloomberg reporters Stanley Reed and Allison Fitzgerald assert in the preface:

The story behind the Macondo blowout is more than a story about mechanical failures or human error. The root cause, we found, may lie in BP’s particular corporate culture, which depends on and even celebrates risk taking.

They continue:

The company’s corporate DNA is different from its competitors, where engineering principles dominate. BP is more of a financial culture. BP is very creative at finding oil and persuading governments to open their doors. But it is sometimes less good at everyday operations.

Obama’s moratorium is unfair to the other major oil companies. They will take a hit but they will survive. It is worse for the multitude of small and medium-size firms that service the majors, many of whom do not have worldwide operations. And it is positively devastating to workers who have been laid off with little prospect of getting another job when unemployment is already north of 9%.

The administration is demonstrating incredibly bad faith in the wake of judicial orders that the moratorium be lifted, only to keep it in place through administrative and bureaucratic maneuvering. Obama cannot claim he is for job growth at the same time he is destroying the economy of the Gulf. The unrest in the Middle East underscores how important it is for domestic oil production to resume without further delay.


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