June 16, 2010

Spill response flawed from start

The Express-Star

— Last week marked a sad milestone:  50 days since the explosion on British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig triggered the oil spill that is still gushing out of control.  

Sadly, almost two months into the disaster, precisely zero progress has been made in stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.    

 Judging from BP's inadequate attempts to plug the hole, it is clear that the company was woefully unprepared to respond to a catastrophe of this magnitude.  Incriminating new analysis from the Associated Press reveals that BP's federally mandated oil spill response plan was riddled with "glaring errors and omissions."

The plan, submitted in 2009, provides for post-spill consultation with a national wildlife expert who passed away in 2005.

It includes walruses and seals among the wildlife to be accounted for in the event of a spill, despite the total absence of such cold-water mammals anywhere close to the Gulf.  

In a section listing clean-up equipment, the plan refers to a website that links to a "defunct Japanese-language page" some media accounts have identified as a home-shopping network.

The consequences of BP's total lack of responsible precautions are evident every day, as the company lurches from one failed attempt to stop the flow after another, improvising as it goes along.  

Such behavior should really not be surprising from a company that has been cited for 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations the past three years, compared to just eight apiece for Sunoco and ConocoPhillips.

Undeterred by BP's abysmal safety record, the Obama administration granted hasty approval to the pathetic oil spill response plan and gave BP the green light to start drilling in April 2009 with no restrictions.  

As we all know now, it would not be the last time administration officials failed to protect the Gulf from BP's recklessness.

For weeks after the spill, the Obama administration refused to act decisively to stop the leak.  

One month into the crisis, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that BP employees "have the technical expertise to plug the hole" and it "is their responsibility."  Just last week,

President Obama admitted he still had not spoken with the head of BP.

Besides failing to ensure the leak was stopped, the administration has been sluggish and uncoordinated in efforts to prevent environmental damage from oil that has already escaped.

Officials in Gulf Coast states have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of response and resources coming from the federal government.  

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempts to protect his state's coastline were stalled for weeks while he waited for the Coast Guard to approve plans to build sand barriers to block the rapidly approaching oil.

With new reports estimating the well has been spewing 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil each day since April 20, any delay in response can have grievous consequences for life and livelihood on the Gulf Coast.  

Even if the spill were staunched tomorrow, the recovery process would be far from over.

 It is my hope that bipartisan efforts will proceed swiftly to ensure that BP pays its obligations in full and that reforms are instituted to prevent such a disaster from ever occurring again.