Thursday, May 06, 2010

u.s. exempted bp's gulf of mexico drilling from environmental impact study

WaPo | The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions -- show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

Rethinking the rules

Now, environmentalists and some key senators are calling for a reassessment of safety requirements for offshore drilling.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who has supported offshore oil drilling in the past, said, "I suspect you're going to see an entirely different regime once people have a chance to sit back and take a look at how do we anticipate and clean up these potential environmental consequences" from drilling.

BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company's appeal for NEPA waivers in the past "was based on the spill and incident-response history in the Gulf of Mexico." Once the various investigations of the new spill have been completed, he added, "the causes of this incident can be applied to determine any changes in the regulatory regime that are required to protect the environment."

"I'm of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday. "That, in my opinion, is what happened."

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said it is important to learn the cause of the accident before pursuing a major policy change. "While the conversation has shifted, the energy reality has not," Gerard said. "The American economy still relies on oil and gas."