Since last April 20, when BP’s well rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, we’ve been referring to the ensuing oil flood as “the BP oil spill.” Today, as we analyze a preliminary report from the federal government’s oil spill commission, we are inclined to change our reference.
Based on the report’s conclusions, it seems more accurate to call it the “Oil Industry Spill”—a designation that includes a federal regulatory system that for decades has acted more like an industry partner than a policeman.
To BP’s undoubted relief, the commission points its accusatory finger at the entire industry, not just at BP. Abetted by chummy federal regulators, especially those in the former Minerals Management Service, oil companies and contractors have over the years allowed laxness and laziness to infiltrate their drilling, says the report. Managers weren’t managing, oil companies and regulators were colluding, and high risk was acceptable risk. Thus, while it was BP’s well that blew, the blame for it is shared by many.
The conclusions make sense to those of us in the environmental community who’ve been railing against and suing to stop drilling practices that allow profit to trump science and safety. We’ve long warned about how lax government oversight has allowed the oil industry to take unacceptable risks by rushing to drill in ever-deeper waters and in the danger zones of the ice-thick Arctic.
As our own David Guest observed, the Gulf oil spill was no surprise to us. Nor would it be a surprise if a catastrophic oil spill resulted from Arctic oil exploration. But we aren’t waiting for such non-surprises to happen again. Through court action, for four years we’ve managed to keep the industry from exploratory drilling in Arctic waters, and—in the wake of the Gulf spill—we’re keeping pressure on federal regulators to do the right thing.
The right thing means enforcing existing regulations so that oil exploration only goes forward when we aren’t trading the resource of oil for the resources of irreplaceable wild places and creatures, and the public’s shared environment. And, said the presidential commission, such protections won’t be assured until there is significant reform in how the industry conducts and the government addresses oil drilling practices.