Oil Spill Commission Calls for Reform

January 11, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Oil is seen deposited along dead marsh land in Port Sulphur, Louisiana. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Oil is seen deposited along dead marsh land in Port Sulphur, Louisiana. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON—Neither government nor industry was prepared for the risks or technical expertise required for safely drilling oil deep underwater, wrote the seven member National Oil Spill Commission in its report to the president, “Deep Water,” released Tuesday.

Existing practices and technology for responding to and cleaning up spills are not up to meeting “the real risks associated with deepwater drilling into large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface,” wrote the commission.

The commission recommends fundamental reform of government oversight of offshore drilling to guarantee both expertise and political autonomy of overseers, and to make sure environmental concerns get proper consideration. The commission recommends creating an independent safety agency within the Department of the Interior to regulate offshore drilling safety.

Commission cochairman William Reilly said the 2010 Gulf of Mexico blowout and spill were caused by “preventable human and engineering failures” but that these were the “inevitable result of years of industry and government complacency and carelessness regarding safety.”

The commission recommends the oil and gas industry improve safety by creating a “Safety Institute” to self-police to assist government enforcement of safety standards.

“Industry must rise to the challenge of providing a new and stronger commitment to safety,” said commission cochairman Bob Graham in a statement.

The commission calls on government and industry to learn more and improve working methods for the challenges of dangerous and potentially environmentally catastrophic exploration of deep underwater oil reserves.

“Scientific understanding of environmental conditions in sensitive environments in deep Gulf waters, along the region’s coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate,” wrote the commission.

The 400-page report recommends more training and money to improve federal regulations of offshore drilling, including giving greater weight to the opinions of other federal scientists (such as those of NOAA) in making drilling decisions; raising the cap on liability for oil pollution, and increasing the financial responsibility of companies for offshore facilities, and committing 80 percent of the fines from the BP spill to restoration of the Gulf.

Tuesday, Jan. 11, the commission released its findings and recommendations for moving forward with offshore drilling in the future. Last May the president established the commission to investigate the Gulf oil spill, the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. The accident happened in April and cost 11 oil-rig workers their lives.