On Wednesday, August 25, I attended the second public meeting of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Fortunately, my immediate and lasting impression is that the Commissioners are extremely well-chosen and broadly experienced, highly capable experts. They demonstrated throughout the long day that they are committed to understanding and helping to correct the institutional failures, both in the government and corporate culture, that allowed for this catastrophe.
President Obama established the Commission in May to provide recommendations on how the U.S. can prevent future devastating blow-outs and spills from offshore drilling. During the first public meeting, held in New Orleans in mid-July while the oil was still gushing, the panel heard emotional and highly charged testimony directly from the people working on and impacted by the spill.
In comparison, I expected this second meeting on regulatory oversight of offshore drilling to be somewhat dry and boring. On the contrary, I found myself riveted, largely because it was continually astonishing just how vastly under-regulated offshore drilling has been, and how poorly prepared we seem to be to continue our current level of drilling, let alone handle an expansion (and here).
One of the most compelling witnesses for me was J. Robinson West, who served in the Reagan Administration and now owns and runs a huge global energy consulting firm. Perhaps at first glance not the sort of person one would expect to call for greater regulation, he referred to MMS as a sleepy organization, whose level of sophistication was no match for the industryâ€™s. He encouraged the Commission to learn more about the UK regulatory system, where the burden is fully on the industry to prove to regulators they are drilling safely, rather than the other way, and said the industry must build the cost of â€śecological insuranceâ€ť into the cost of doing business.
The Commissionâ€™s final report is expected by mid-January 2011.
Johanna Polsenberg is GRN's Washington DC Contractor