Gulf Coast Oil Spill Was A Result of Systemic Industry Problems: Report

Government investigators have determined that responsibility for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill rests squarely on the shoulders of BP, Halliburton and Transocean, in what they say is a sign of systemic failures in the safety culture of the oil drilling industry. 

The Oil Spill Commission’s final report (pdf) to President Barack Obama does not mince words about the circumstances that led to an explosion that killed nearly a dozen oil rig workers and sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the environmentally sensitive Gulf of Mexico and devastated coastlines across the gulf.

The Commission, who said it’s job was to discover “what happened, why it happened and explain it to Americans everywhere” made it clear that the Macondo well blowout could have been prevented and said it will take more than regulatory oversight to prevent future incidents.

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“The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systemic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry,” the commission said in its conclusions.

The commission said that sweeping regulatory reform was needed to ensure human safety and the protection of the environment, but warned that the oil and gas industry also needs to step up and take its own steps to dramatically improve the safety of deep water oil drilling. The commission also determined that the country currently lacked the technology and regulatory power to effectively and rapidly respond to such a crisis if it were to occur again.

The Gulf Coast oil spill started shortly after an April 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that killed 11 workers. The damage sent the oil rig, which controlled the Macondo well, to the bottom of the Gulf and unleashed an oil spill in the Gulf that many now consider the worst environmental disaster in history. The massive oil spill released nearly five million barrels of toxic oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, impacting several states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The report comes weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against BP, formerly British Petroleum, and nine other companies, accusing them of violating federal safety and operational regulations by failing to take a number of steps to prevent the blowout and subsequent spill. The investigation is ongoing and Attorney General Eric Holder said that more charges could be coming.

There have already been a number of wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of workers killed in the blast, oil spill lawsuits by businesses who suffered economic damages, states who saw their coastlines turned into tar ball strewn toxic wastelands, and environmental groups trying to protect watersheds and coastal habitat.

While the majority of the media attention and government focus has been on BP, most of the lawsuits also name Transocean Ltd., Cameron International Corp. and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. as defendants. In August, the federal oil spill litigation was consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) under U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier in New Orleans.

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