By the first anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, which triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history, lawmakers will have failed “to enact a single recommendation” offered to prevent a repeat disaster, a watchdog critical of the spill aftermath says.
The April 20, 2010, explosion killed 11 workers, and crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.
“And in the past year, it looks as though we have learned little,” contends Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a nonprofit Washington watchdog group.
“We have learned that lax regulations led BP and its contractors to prioritize expediency and cost-cutting at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection. But we have yet to enact stronger safeguards,” Slocum says. “We have learned that blowout preventers – the one piece of equipment that was supposed to be a fail-safe way to prevent an endless gusher — can fail if the force of oil is too strong. But we have yet to find another option.
“We have seen what the oil has done to the Gulf community — to the beaches and marshes, to the wildlife, to the livelihoods of the residents. None has fully recovered since the oil washed over their lives,” Slocum adds.
Last year, Slocum was highly critical of the fine print in the terms of the clean-up agreement between BP and the White House.
In the wake of the spill, President Obama created a bipartisan commission, formally known as the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, to investigate the incident and offer solutions to prevent another such tragedy.
The commission issued its final report in January, offering a variety of recommendations to improve the safety of offshore drilling in order to protect the environment.
“And in the wake of this environmental catastrophe, Congress has failed to pass meaningful legislation that would hold the oil industry accountable, reform the regulatory process and protect both workers and the environment. This legislation has not even been reintroduced in the Senate,” Slocum says. “Lawmakers have failed to enact a single recommendation from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.”
The Obama administration reformed the federal agency which oversees offshore drilling, but policymaking remains too influenced by big companies like the ones who owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon, Slocum argues.
Senate Republicans last summer repeatedly blocked spill-related legislation offered by Democrats, particularly to increase the liabilities companies must pay due to big spills. Those liability limits have not increased in the more than two decades since the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989.
Estimates put the economic damage due the Deepwater Horizon spill alone in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Congress must stop its kowtowing to Big Oil. Lawmakers should get rid of industry tax subsidies, pass tough legislation and reject campaign contributions from BP, Halliburton and Transocean,” Slocum says. “We owe it to Gulf residents and the American people to remedy these problems before an even larger disaster trumps the BP spill.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.