New Oil Spill Leak—Oil Industry and Feds Too Cozy

Agency let BP take major drilling risk without backup plan

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As British Petroleum tries desperately to cap the oil gushing from its exploded drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico, information continues to leak out about the too-cozy relationship BP and the oil industry have with federal oversight agencies—especially the Minerals Management Service.

MMS regulates, and issues permits for, offshore oil drilling. It is supposed to make sure oil companies are prepared to handle spills, but as The Associated Press is reporting, a rule change two years ago by MMS let BP avoid filing a plan dealing with the kind of blowout/spill pouring into Gulf waters at a daily rate of 200,000+ gallons.

Former Earthjustice attorney Robert Wiygul, now an environmental lawyer in Mississippi, told AP:

The lack of a blowout scenario "is kind of an outrageous omission, because you’re drilling in extremely deep waters, where by definition you’re looking for very large reservoirs to justify the cost.

"If the MMS was allowing companies to drill in this ultra-deep situation without a blowout scenario, then it seems clear they weren’t doing the job they were tasked with," he said.

If that’s unsettling, consider that MMS is allowing Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer—based on assurances that a major spill there is unlikely. The agency hardly considered the havoc such a spill would wreak on the area’s wildlife and human communities. This is why Earthjustice was in court yesterday, trying to stop Shell on behalf of Native Alaskans who depend on that ocean’s bounty.

For a full look at the Arctic drilling//MMS issue, check out this story in Mother Jones.

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