Update offshore drilling rules

Update offshore drilling rules

September 22nd, 2011 in Opinion Times

It has been more than a year since an explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 men, spewed about 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and befouled the beaches, bayous and lowlands of nearby states. In some ways, life seems to be back to normal in the region. Offshore drilling is nearing pre-blowout levels. The fishing and tourism industries seem to be recovering and the oil company insists that environmental concerns are of no great importance. BP, in fact, acts as if the blowout was an inconvenient part of doing business. That is simply untrue.

The company has worked ceaselessly to create its version of the truth. It continues to underwrite cleanup efforts, but it also invests heavily to burnish its image, and in lobbyists who promote the status quo in offshore drilling regulations. The oil giant no doubt counts the expenditures as money well spent. And why not? The many millions the company has spent in the aftermath of the spill is, in the words of the street, chump change.

BP recorded profits of more than $5 billion from April through June, the latest reporting period. Given that, millions to assuage noisy government officials, environmentalists, conservationists and the mostly working class people directly impacted by the spill are a necessary investment that promotes a hefty return. Profit, not the truth or corporate responsibility, clearly remain BP's main interest.

The damage wrought by BP can't be explained away, though. Recent reports from the Coast Guard, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement are the latest to say that BP and its working partners -- Halliburton and Transocean -- are to blame for the 2010 explosion and subsequent damage. The companies, the reports agree, violated rules, took unnecessary risks and made so many operational mistakes that disaster was almost assured. That's not all investigators had to say.

There was strong agreement that lax laws contribute to the buccaneering culture that promotes the kind of risk-taking that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The investigators concluded that more regulation, not less as sought by the oil companies, is required to reduce the possibility of similarly calamitous events, to protect human life and to safeguard the environment. There's been some movement to strengthen current drilling regulations by the Obama administration, but Congress, dominated by oil and business-friendly legislators, has refused to adopt the statutes necessary to protect Americans and America from greedy oil companies.

BP and other companies, no doubt, will continue to drill in the Gulf. There should be a price for doing so. It should come in the form of tougher, strictly enforced federal regulations. Congress should provide them promptly.