The memory of tar balls that stained the Gulf of Mexico’s beaches and oil slicks that coated its waters last summer is still fresh in our minds, if not in our nostrils. Recommendations presented this week could help prevent another oil spill disaster in the future. The commission assigned to investigate the oil spill presented their findings to President Obama on Tuesday afternoon. The 380-page report highlights the need for more government oversight and notable funding for restoration.
“If dramatic steps are not taken,” said Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida and a co-chairman of the commission, in a New York Times article, “I’m afraid at some point in the coming years another failure will occur, and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did the industry allow this to happen again.”
The recommendations are as follows:
- A new approach to risk assessment and management
- A new, independent agency responsible for safety and environmental review of offshore drilling
- Stronger environmental review and enforcement
- A reorientation of spill response and containment planning
- A revision of liability rules to better protect victims and provide proper incentives to industry
“This is a rare instance where something good can come from tragedy,” David Yarnold, the National Audubon Society’s president, wrote in an op-ed. “For starters, we can use BP's fines to restore a way of life to the region that has suffered the worst environmental and economic harm. The commission recommends devoting at least 80 percent of BP's guilt money to restoration and that requires an act of Congress.” (Louisiana’s Times-Picayune also published responses to the report from industry representatives and environmental activists, which you can find here.)
In fact, many of the proposals suggested by the commission require congressional action, which some say is unlikely to happen in the current political climate. Still, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) both said that they would introduce legislation that includes many of the recommendations. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also said that she would start to work on a bill focused on oil spills.
The report identifies the three companies that drilled and managed the well—BP, Transocean, and Halliburton—as the spill’s culprits, but the problems that led to the catastrophe are found within the entire industry, the commission stated.
"I am sad to say that part of the answer is the fact that our government helped let it happen. Our regulators were consistently outmatched," Graham is quoted as saying in a story in the Washington Post. He went on to say that regarding offshore drilling oversight, "Science has not been given a sufficient seat at the table. Actually, that is a significant understatement. It has been virtually shut out."
There are still some mysteries about the spill and unanswered questions, as Audubon’s Yarnold expressed in his piece. “Can this Congress empower the drilling police? Can the oil and gas industry balance lives, nature and profitability? Can the people of the Gulf Coast dare to hope that their fractured landscape can be put back together again?” he wrote. “All of that is possible, the commission said. And they're right.”