The Phoenix Flyer

New report says U.S. lets oil industry write its own rules, doesn’t have proper safeguards to prevent another oil spill disaster

By: - April 18, 2019 10:34 am

Photo by ideum via

Nine years ago this week, the worst oil spill ever to hit the U.S. happened at the BP’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil rig off Louisiana. The slick killed sea life, suffocated the Gulf, and slimed wetlands and beaches in Lousiana, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

In a new investigative report, the nonprofit group Oceana warns that the U.S. government hasn’t improved safety procedures to prevent another disastrous oil spill.

The group reviewed public records and found that the federal government’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement “relies heavily on industry-written safety standards to regulate offshore drilling and does not provide adequate oversight or enforcement.”

The reliance on industry to police itself comes at a time when President Donald Trump is pushing to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling. Trump’s new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist and is under ethics investigation for allegedly continuing to work on behalf of or his clients while in his government job.

Planning to expand offshore drilling while having such inadequate regulatory oversight, Oceana researchers write, is “a recipe for disaster.”

“We should be strengthening safety, not further weakening the few safety measures currently in place,” Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana said in a statement.

Among the group’s findings:

– The federal government regularly grants energy companies exemptions to offshore drilling safety requirements.

– The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has only about 120 inspectors to do 20,000 annual inspections.- At least 6,500 oil spills occurred in U.S. waters between 2007 and 2017, and a recent study found that spills are typically far larger than what is reported.

– Oil spills “cannot be cleaned up effectively, with methods that have largely remained unchanged since the late 1980s.” Clean-up in the years after the BP spill climbed to more than $14 billion.

– So-called “blowout preventers” – technology implicated in the BP disaster – are still not reliable and haven’t been properly tested “under conditions that replicate the extreme real-world environment to which they may be exposed.”

A spokesman for  the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told the Guardian newspaper that the federal agency “has made significant advances in technology, safety and environmental management systems, inspection strategies and risk management, and the regulatory framework since 2010” to reduce accident risk.

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Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.