Oil Spill Commission Cites ‘Systematic Failures’ in BP Case But Presents No Evidence of Such Failures With Other Rig Operators

By Matt Cover | January 13, 2011 | 4:15 PM EST


(CNSNews.com) – In its final report, President Barack Obama’s oil spill commission said that “systematic failures in risk management” were responsible for the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and that these failures raise concerns about the entire industry. However, the report did not present evidence of systematic failures among the other oil rig operators in the Gulf.

“The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry,” reads the commission report, Deepwater: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.

At a press conference for the report’s release on Tuesday, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who is a co-chairman of the commission, said, “Our investigation found significant errors and misjudgments by the three major oil drilling companies – BP, Halliburton, and Transocean – that led to the disaster.”

“It’s important to emphasize these errors, mistakes, and management failures were not the product of a single, rogue company, but instead revealed both failures and inadequate safety procedures by several key industry players that have a large presence in offshore oil and gas drilling throughout the world,” said Graham.

The other co-chariman, William Reilly, was more direct, saying it was “hard to accept” that the Gulf spill was an isolated incident.

“A key question I had at the outset is, do we have a single company, BP, that blundered with fatal consequences, or a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry?” he asked. “Given that these contractors are major service providers to operators in all the world’s oceans, that is hard to accept.”

However, when CNSNews.com asked Graham and Reilly whether they had any evidence that other oil companies were in fact making the same mistakes, they admitted that the commission “did not document” any instances of similar misconduct.

CNSNews.com asked: “You hinted in your speech, you said this was an industry-wide, these problems that caused the spill were industry-wide. Do you have any evidence you could share with us that these same mistakes are being made right now and are they being made in U.S. waters and where are they being made?”

Reilly said, “The commission did not document these problems in other places. We’re perfectly aware of blowout preventers that didn’t work in other environments and what loss of well-control that occurred.”

Black waves and brown whitecaps at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast on Sunday, May 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“But I would cite just one statistic that I think is indisputable: the fatality rate per 100 million hours worked in the United States is five – in United States waters, in the Gulf,” he said.  “In the North Sea and in Europe, it’s one. That needs an explanation, and it points to a problem. I think it points to a system-wide problem.”

Former Sen. Graham offered a similar justification, without specifying which companies were making the same mistakes and where they were making them.

“This is not just a rogue operation; this is a systemic challenge,” Graham said. “On this rig there were probably a hundred suppliers and subcontractors working. We’ve shown that at least two of those, Halliburton and Transocean, made serious mistakes that were highly contributory to the disaster.”

“Those same companies are working for virtually every other major oil company,” said Graham.

Despite noting that both Halliburton and Transocean are employed by other international oil companies, neither Reilly nor Graham offered evidence that any other oil companies were making the same mistakes that BP did. Nor did they offer evidence that either Halliburton of Transocean were making similar mistakes on other oil rigs.

Nevertheless, the commission proposed both new federal regulations and a new industry safety group that together would purportedly fix the systemic problems the commission alleges are occurring.

Notably, the commission called for the creation of a separate federal agency within the Department of the Interior that would oversee all offshore drilling.

The commission also called for an industry-run safety organization similar to the nuclear industry’s Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, saying that the oil drilling industry must adopt a “culture of safety” that the commission apparently thinks does not currently exist.

Drilling operations at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. (AP File Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“The oil and gas industry must adopt a culture of safety,” the commission wrote in a press release outlining its recommendations. “Much as the aviation, chemical, and nuclear power industries have done in response to disasters, the oil and gas industry must move towards developing a notion of safety as a collective responsibility.”

Senator Graham compared the Gulf oil spill with the Three Mile Island nuclear accident of 1979, saying that it should serve as a wake-up call to the drilling industry that it must change its ways. Graham said that, like Three Mile Island, the Gulf spill meant that another such disaster could result in the entire industry being shut down.

“The mistake that was made here was that the industry didn’t recognize that it was going to be judged by not the lowest common denominator but by the lowest performing part of the industry,” said Graham.  “Three Mile Island sent that message to the nuclear power industry that the whole industry was likely to be shut down if it had another Three Mile Island, and so they reacted to avoid it.”

“This industry needs to see Deepwater Horizon as a similar signal that it’s got to act together to establish an industry-wide culture of safety or it could be shut down,” he said.