Gulf Oil Spill Hearings Provoke Anger and Disbelief

Carelessness and industry self-regulation created the calamity

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Today—three long weeks into an oil spill that threatens ecological and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—federal officials probing the accident seemed both angry and incredulous at what they were being told, The New York Times reports.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at his committee’s hearing on the accident:

This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures. If the largest oil and oil service companies in the world had been more careful, 11 lives might have been saved and our coastlines protected.

Reporting from the hearing, The Wall Street Journal said today’s revelations about failed testing and equipment failure has shaken committee Republicans who "are long-time allies of the oil industry." Addressing the failure of the all-important blowout preventer, The Journal went on to report:


After being told that blowout preventers aren’t designed for all disaster situations, Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) said that "I would think that your blowout preventer, your technology, your casing, should be designed to handle" a catastrophic release of pressure. If my assumption is wrong, then we have to reassess the entire OCS (outer continental shelf) drilling program."


In Louisiana, where a second hearing was being conducted by the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service, The Times reported that:

Officials acknowledged that there had not been sufficient government oversight of equipment testing on oil rigs, and that the system amounted to self-regulation by the industry.

Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen, a co-chairman of the investigation panel, repeatedly asked Michael Saucier, the regional director for the Gulf of Mexico for the Minerals Management Service, about testing and regulation of the blowout preventer.

In seemingly exasperated disbelief, Mr. Nguyen repeated the conclusions back.

"Designed to industry standard, manufactured by industry, installed by industry, with no government oversight of construction or installation, is that correct?" he asked Mr. Saucier.

"That would be correct," Mr. Saucier said.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.