Inside Story Americas
Has safety improved since the BP oil spill?
Two years on, we ask if oil companies can be relied upon to regulate their own standards or if legislation is necessary.
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2012 14:34

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers. Oil flowed unabated for three months - spilling a total of 4.9 million barrels of it into the ocean.

"Right now there's a 'drill baby drill' mentality in the US Congress and even in the Obama administration, which makes anyone reluctant to impose any type of control."

- Greg Palast, an investigative reporter

In January 2011, a White House oil spill commission released its final report on the causes of the disaster. They blamed BP and its partners for making a series of cost-cutting decisions, and the lack of a system to ensure drill well safety. It made a number of recommendations to improve safety and oversight.

Now members of the presidential panel that investigated the rig explosion and spill are criticising Congress for refusing to act on any of its recommendations - accusing it of being hostile to new regulation.
On Wednesday, BP reached a settlement to resolve economic, property and medical claims. But the company could still face potential claims from the federal and state governments.
Two years on, there is even more drilling in the US. In fact, if forecasts are to be believed, oil production will be ramped up over the next few decades. Barack Obama, the US president, boasts of the increased production on his watch, saying: "Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. Over the last three years, I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 per cent of our potential oil resources off shore. We've quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipelines to encircle the earth and then some. So we are drilling all over the place."

"The BP incident was a tragedy, but the administration used a crisis to essentially step in and impose a regulatory regime that they had already envisioned."

- Robin Millican, the policy director for the Institute for Energy Research

And the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has called for even more drilling, saying: "I can cut through the baloney of the task force and just tell him 'Mr President, open up drilling in the Gulf, open up drilling in ANWR, open up drilling in the outer continental shelf, drill in North Dakota, drill in Oklahoma and Texas. Let's start getting our oil resources and, by the way, let's also start opening up our natural gas resources instead of having it held up by the EPA. So that can ultimately become a transportation fuel'."

So should we rely on oil companies to regulate their own safety standards or should the US government introduce new legislation to minimise the possibility of another environmental catastrophe?
Joining Inside Story Americas with Shihab Rattansi to discuss this are: Robin Millican, the policy director for the Institute for Energy Research and a former Senate energy adviser; Greg Palast, an investigative reporter and author on the petroleum industry; and Michael Craig, a campaign energy analyst at Oceana - a group which works to protect the world's oceans.

"Congress has not passed a single bill that would increase off-shore drilling safety .... And even where we have these categories where actions have taken place, like new regulations, there are lots of problems within those actions. So people can say 'yeah, we're trying to fix this' but the reality is they haven't been fixed and yet drilling is going on and that's a problem."

Michael Craig, an analyst at Oceana
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