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Should BP and Federal Regulators Share the Blame for the Gulf of Mexico Disaster?

According to recent reports, BP and federal regulators have a lot of explaining to do regarding the safety standards in place for deep-water drilling.

[social_buttons] I, along with the rest of the world, have been following the environmental disaster occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil leak which was triggered by the deadly rig blast off the coast of Louisiana has the potential to cause more environmental damage than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill some experts have said. Reports estimate oil has been leaking at the rate of 5000 barrels (200,000 gallons) a day with no immediate end in sight. And, now, the finger pointing has begun.

Federal and state officials are blasting BP for its inadequate response. And Lamar McKay, Chairman and President of BP America, is defending the oil giant’s safety record stating that “a failed piece of equipment” is to blame for the massive oil spill. Honestly, I think all parties involved need to get past the blame game and start working together. Because in hindsight, both federal regulators and the oil company are responsible for this unprecedented human and environmental disaster.

Recently, ABC News reported that BP sent a letter to the Department of the Interior dated September 2009 objecting to what it called “extensive, prescriptive regulations” proposed in new rules to toughen safety standards. “We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs…continue to be very successful.” Plus, BP told the government that an event of an oil spill was “highly unlikely”.

The oil industry and federal regulators have been battling since the Clinton administration over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent deep-water well accidents. According to the report, in 2000, the federal agency that oversaw oil rig safety issued a safety alert that called additional layers of backup “an essential component of a deep-water drilling system.” The agency said operators were expected to have multiple layers of protection to prevent a spill.

However, the oil industry aggressively lobbied against an additional layer of protection known as an “acoustic system,” saying it was too costly. In a March 2003 report, the federal agency reversed its position and said the layer of protection was no longer needed. Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News,

“There was a big debate under the Bush administration whether or not to require additional oil drilling safeguards but [federal regulators] decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves.”

What? Did federal regulators truly believe that large oil companies would “voluntarily”do what’s right even though it was “too costly” for their bottom line?

Now, as the nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico continues, the government is sending in people and equipment from the Defense Department. Geoffrey S. Morrell, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in a statement that the government would hold BP accountable for the cost of the department’s deployment.

I can’t imagine installing an “acoustic system” would have been more expensive than the lives lost, weeks of clean-up, and government fines BP will soon be paying. So my question to BP… was it worth it?

Follow Cindy Tickle on Twitter @ethicalbiz
Image credit: uscgd8 via flickr under a CC license

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