It’s being reported that the oil industry fought efforts by federal regulators, safety advocates, and environmental activists which would enhance the safety of workers and reduce the risk of environmental harm. This was going on before the massive Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April. It now appears Transocean, owner of the massive Deepwater Horizon, and BP, which had contracted the rig for exploration, violated numerous statutes and regulations established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.
It appears that both companies failed to provide a competent crew, failed to supervise their employees properly, and failed to provide workers with a safe working environment. Before the explosion occurred, Halliburton, the energy giant, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap. When the Department of the Interior’s Minerals and Management Service (MMS) proposed new rules to improve worker safety last year, Transocean and BP joined other giant oil companies to aggressively oppose them. MMS, which regulates offshore drilling, introduced the new rules after a study found the industry to be replete with accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
In the last nine years, 69 people have been killed and 1,349 injured in oil rig accidents in the Gulf of Mexico. According to MMS, there have been 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf during the same period of time. MMS also issued 150 citations for non-compliance in production and drilling from 2001 to 2007, finding that the industry had failed to improve discernibly in the previous seven years. Because of the offshore oil industry’s poor safety record, MMS proposed that every operator be audited for safety once every three years. The federal agency estimated it would cost the oil companies about $4.6 million in start-up costs and $8 million in annual costs to maintain an adequate safety program. This new requirement would end the industry’s voluntary and self-managed safety programs that have proven to be very ineffective.
Predictably, the oil industry responded with a coordinated attack on the proposed regulations. Oil industry associations and executives sent more than 100 letters to MMS objecting to the regulators. BP’s vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, Richard Morrison, wrote in a letter that the voluntary safety programs “have been and continue to be very successful.” The American Petroleum Institute and the Offshore Operators Committee sent a joint letter to MMS, claiming that the voluntary programs are better because they have “enough flexibility to suit the corporate culture of each company.”
It’s been reported that whistleblowers working on rigs have complained about the work conditions and the environmental damage caused by such operations. The tragic event in the Gulf has called attention to the fact that there is a long-standing safety problem in the offshore industry. BP had been paying Transocean half a million dollars per day to lease the Deepwater Horizon. With that kind of financial pressure, and with the oil industry’s political clout, it’s not too surprising that the big oil companies put production and profits above safety and environmental concerns.
Unfortunately, when these offshore oil companies fail, everyone pays. The Deepwater Horizon spill released nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel into the Gulf waters when it sank, and the wellhead continues to leak what’s conservatively been estimated to be 5,000 gallons of crude every day. The oil has already spread across 2,000 square miles, killing oceangoing animals and threatening wildlife, industry, and livelihoods in all of the Gulf States. The economical and environmental impact on the Gulf States will be tremendous. It’s really beyond comprehension at this juncture. The powerful oil companies that opposed efforts by the federal government to increase safety requirement must be held accountable for their irresponsible actions.
Source: Associated Press, New York Times, and Reuters
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