Oil spill commission: Management failures led to disaster

The lethal well blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year was caused by a “failure of management” and could happen again without significant reform of the federal government and the offshore drilling industry, according to the presidential commission investigating the disaster.

The seven-member panel concluded that the oil spill almost certainly could have been prevented with better decision-making and risk assessment by the three companies involved in drilling and sealing BP’s Macondo well.

In its final report on the disaster, the commission blames a series of “missteps and oversights” on BP, the well owner; Halliburton, the cement contractor; and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

But the commission cautions that the accident is evidence of “systemic failures” in the oil industry and the government agency that polices offshore drilling.

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again,” the commission concluded. “Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

Tasked by President Barack Obama with pinpointing the root causes of the spill and recommending changes to prevent it from recurring, the commission is set to release its final report next Tuesday. An excerpt from that document was released late today.

William Reilly, the commission co-chairman, said the investigation proves that the spill wasn’t the result of blunders by BP, but rather, evidence of “a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry.”

“Given the documented failings of both Transocean and Halliburton, both of which serve the offshore industry in virtually every ocean, I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem,” Reilly said in a statement.

That runs counter to a common narrative from industry leaders, who have described the accident as an aberration — not an endemic problem.

The commission’s findings also could aid BP by bolstering claims that no single company is solely responsible for the well blowout that killed 11 workers and dumped an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Commission Co-Chairman Bob Graham, said the report affirms that the tragedy was avoidable.

“This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first,” Graham said. “And it likely would not have happened if the responsible governmental regulators had the capacity and will to demand world class safety standards.”

Obama administration officials said the report pinpoints problems that are already being addressed at the Interior Department and the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

“In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has launched the most comprehensive reforms in U.S. history to ensure the safe development of offshore oil and gas regulation,” said Kendra Barkoff, an Interior Department spokeswoman.

“The agency has taken unprecedented steps and will continue to make the changes necessary to restore the American people’s confidence in the safety and environmental soundness of oil and gas drilling and production on the outer continental shelf while balancing our nation’s important energy needs.”

Transocean defended its work on the Macondo well.

“Consistent with industry standards, the procedures being conducted in the final hours were crafted and directed by BP engineers and approved in advance by federal regulators,” said Transocean spokesman Brian Kennedy.

“Based on the limited information made available to them, the Transocean crew took appropriate actions to gain control of the well. They were well-trained and considered to be among the best in the business.”

Photo:Photo: Hans Gerwitz/Flickr