The Gulf Oil Spill: A Sure Bet

From everything we’re hearing these days, the Gulf Oil Spill is a problem we don’t know how to solve. The effort is a whole lot of trial and error and, so far, error is winning. We’ve tried plugging the leak with everything but super glue only to figure out that it may take months to stem the flow. Cleaning up the mess is a much longer-term proposition especially since we can’t yet know the extent of the damage. The worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is out of control.

As the days drag by, something even worse is oozing to the surface. The Minerals Management Service had to have known, when it granted the permit to BP, that the consequences of a drilling failure would be unmanageable. In April 2009 when MMS gave BP the thumbs up, disaster was the smart bet.

Under the best conditions, deep water drilling is risky. Containing a catastrophe at that depth is impossible. Making an inherently dangerous situation worse was BP’s safety history.  Among offshore drillers, the company has the worst record of catastrophic failures. Its felony misconduct caused an explosion that killed 15 employees. It is responsible for the worst oil spill in the history of the Alaskan North Slope. And it has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal fines for drilling violations.

How could that company be given a permit for that type of drilling? MMS regulators, charged with ensuring the safety of offshore drilling, allow oil companies to police themselves. Oversight and safety have fallen into the abyss. Since 2001, letting the fox guard the hen house has caused almost 1,500 drilling accidents, over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries and spills.

As Obama admitted in his press conference last week, his Administration has known about these sorts of problems from the outset. To deflect unfavorable public opinion, he’s now lobbing one of his favorite misdirection grenades. Current MMS failings are the fault of the Bush Administration and holdover civil servants. Unfortunately for him, the Inspector General has just published a report detailing fatal systemic flaws in MMS from 2000 – 2008. The problems were so pervasive they reflected a “culture” of corruption. Something Obama’s people could not have missed when they took over. The Obama years have not been evaluated.

So, hauling out the Bush blame crutch doesn’t work this time. No matter how messed up MMS may have been on Inauguration Day 2009, it was Obama’s baby. Whether the problems were created or inherited does not matter. What matters is that Obama did nothing to solve them before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010.

Instead, he allowed MMS to continue with business as usual. Rather than issuing a moratorium on drilling and conducting investigations, permits were granted swiftly and without review. Compliance with environmental safety rules was waived. Technology troubles were shelved. MMS even ignored a BP whistleblower last spring and BP’s own failure concerns the month before the explosion. The Administration’s perpetuation of damn-the-torpedoes practices made the Gulf Oil Spill disaster not only possible, but, given the safety violations, certain.

Will honesty ever surface? About as likely as fixing the leak anytime soon.

See you in the mirror.