Entire Industry Should Not Shoulder Blame for BP’s Safety Missteps

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Last November I provided a visual summary of BP’s safety missteps, arguing that the company’s narrative followed a dark tale of a rogue operator. The blowout of the Macondo well, I concluded, was simply the latest tragedy in a long history of gross neglect and costly oversight by BP.


Indeed, over the past six decades, oil and gas firms have successfully drilled over 42,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. As a safety outlier, however, BP has accounted for 96% of the ‘willful, egregious’ safety violations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 2007. 


It appears my conclusions have fallen on deaf ears. While the President’s oil spill commission notes in its final report that most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced to a failure of management by BP and its partners Halliburton and Transocean, its members continue to reprimand the entire industry for the mistakes of a few. 


Take, for example, an excerpt from a chapter of the Commission’s final report released yesterday:


The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again … Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.


Echoing the report, commission co-chairman William K. Reilley stated, “I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem.” These comments, paradoxically, side with those of BP whose internal investigation concluded that the accident “was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies.”


Far from surprising, this vilification of the entire industry is a common trope in the administration’s handling of the fossil fuels industry. Echoing this sentiment, the editorial board at Investor’s Business Daily today argues the Obama administration has followed a deliberate policy of attacking the oil industry, turning its energy policy into “something of a moral crusade.”


Although cooler heads prevail— like the National Academy of Engineers, who stated that the BP spill was the result of one safety outlier and does not represent the entire industry— their voices have been drowned out by a chorus of opponents to offshore exploration, including co-chair Reilley, who is the former President of the green lobby WWF, as well the current President of the National Resources Defense Council who serves as a Commission member.


Unfortunately, the economic and social fallout from the Commission’s findings will continue to harm Gulf residents long after the commission wraps up its deliberations. The swiftly imposed moratorium has already cost over 20,000 jobs, and new taxes could eliminate nearly 150,000 more. And that’s not all.


The sharp augmentation of gas prices to more than $3 a gallon, combined with steeper lending costs and fewer jobs will continue to harm small businesses in the Gulf. The commission’s conclusions underscore the administration’s ongoing hostility to offshore exploration and communities that rely on its viability.