deepwater horizon explosion

Don't think we never agree with government agencies. Yesterday, we did - when the final report from the US National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill came out.

Essentially, it's what Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have been saying for quite a while now: deepwater drilling is simply not safe. As Kert Davies, Research Director for Greenpeace US said: "The risks caused by technical mistakes or profit-driven greed could create another Gulf of Mexico-style disaster, at any time."

I haven't read the full report yet - it's 398 pages long - but I've skimmed through some chapters. It's interesting enough to bookmark for further reading. Here are some particularly insightful quotes:

"[...]In the Gulf, some environmental protections and safety oversight were formally relaxed or informally diminished so as to render them ineffective, promoting a dramatic expansion of offshore oil and gas production and billions of dollars in federal revenues." (page 56)

It's not terribly surprising, but still shocking, that the environment of the Gulf of Mexico was considered expendable in order to generate revenue. As long as we allow a price tag to be put on Nature - and allow ourselves to guess how much money we could make from dangerous exploitation. The rule should be: protect Nature first, keeping the precautionary principle in mind, and then, figure out how to make money. This is what the report points out two paragraphs further:

"Revenue generation — enjoyed both by industry and government — became the dominant objective. But there was a hidden price to be paid for those increased revenues. Any revenue increases dependent on moving drilling further offshore and into much deeper waters came with a corresponding increase in the safety and environmental risks of such drilling."

There are many other quotes I could add from this chapter (Chapter 3 "Oversight - and oversights - in Regulation) - all of which pointing out things that Greenpeace has been saying for a long time, and then was dismissed out of hand by oil companies, such as the fact that lack of government oversight has been allowing oil companies to do essentially nothing on rig safety (remember the walrurses present in BP's oil spill response plans? That's what happens when you copy-paste your oil response  from another region...).

Other quotes just make me plain disgusted. Try this one:

"BP has proclaimed the importance of safety for its vast worldwide operations. “Our goal of ‘no accidents, no harm to people and no damage to the environment’ is fundamental to BP’s activities,” stated the company’s Sustainability Review 2009. “We work to achieve this through consistent management processes, ongoing training programmes, rigorous risk management and a culture of continuous improvement.”" (page 218)

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel the need to vomit?

The Commission came to the conclusion than to prevent other oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon one, the oil drilling industry needs a profound internal culture change, going towards improved safety standards and taking more care of our environment. That's really nice on paper, but my view is that the oil industry has repeatedly shown itself absolutely incapable of such change. While the Macondo well was still leaking, oil companies were planning to drill in the Arctic - an environment infinitively more fragile than the Gulf of Mexico. If oil companies were truly taking responsibility and willing to take better precautions of the envionment, they simply wouldn't be going in the Arctic at all.

In any case, there is one major thing I worry about - we all know the tendency of important reports like these to end up at the bottom of drawers, their recommendations ignored as they're too hard to take care of. I seriously hope this won't be the destiny of this report, but the cynic in me is a bit skeptical. If you are a US citizen, why don't you give your representative a call and ask them to stop dangerous oil drilling?

One last bit of irony: The report also suggests that the USA should copy the system which oversees offshore drilling around the UK, but this is hardly a good example. Only last week a UK Parliamentary committee raised the alarm over oil companies’ preparedness to deal with a major spill in UK waters and called on the UK government to tighten up the rules.

Time to go beyond oil!