Oil Spill Panel: Regulators Were 'Outmatched' One step in preventing another oil spill disaster is to hire federal regulators who won't be outsmarted by their better-paid, better-trained industry cohorts. That's one of the recommendations released Tuesday in the final report from the president's commission on the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Oil Spill Panel: Regulators Were 'Outmatched'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132834533/132834563" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The president's oil spill commission today said the federal government needs to beef up oversight of the offshore oil and gas industry. The seven-member committee released a set of 15 major recommendations in its final report. One calls for a new agency within the Interior Department to police the industry.

NPR's Richard Harris has that story.

RICHARD HARRIS: The commission has already had harsh words for the oil and gas industry and its role in last April's deadly blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. But in releasing its final recommendations, commission co-chair Bob Graham said industry alone was not responsible for the catastrophe.

Mr. BOB GRAHAM (Co-chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill): I am sad to say that part of the answer is the fact that our government let it happen. Our regulators were consistently outmatched. The Department of Interior lacked the in-house expertise to effectively enforce regulation.

HARRIS: So, one of the commission's biggest recommendations is to revamp that part of the Interior Department. That means, among other things, getting a safety office that will rely more on science in its decisions to pay enough to attract top technical people and to be more independent than it is right now.

Commission co-chair Bill Reilly noted that in the aftermath of the spill, the Interior Department did split in two its Minerals Management Service to separate the revenue-collecting arm from its regulatory arm.

Mr. BILL REILLY (Co-chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill): That is a move to the good. We support that and respect it. We think it's not enough.

HARRIS: Instead, Reilly said the safety and environment office should be better insulated from economic and political pressures. One way to do that is to have a director appointed for a set term and, therefore, less vulnerable to changing political winds.

Mr. REILLY: That is the only way to ensure that revenues do not again become excessively influential in decisions relating to safety and environment.

HARRIS: One goal of this office should be to raise the safety and environmental standards expected of the industry. The commission found that Norway and the United Kingdom, to name two other nations, now have stricter regulations and better safety records.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, didn't dispute that assertion directly, but he disagrees with the commission's conclusion that problems are systemic throughout the offshore oil and gas industry.

Mr. RANDALL LUTHI (President, National Ocean Industries Association): He looked back over the overall history of the Gulf of Mexico, and you see that it's a remarkable industry with a remarkable safety record. And I think the commission just didn't really give enough play for that.

HARRIS: But one commissioner, Terry Garcia, said it's clear that the failures here weren't simply the bad decisions on the rig that led up to the deadly blowout.

Mr. TERRY GARCIA (Commissioner, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill): What is not disputed is that the industry was not prepared for this.

HARRIS: Nobody had the necessary gear in place to bring the blowout under control quickly or to capture the oil as it spread through and across the waters of the Gulf.

Co-chair Graham, a former senator from Florida, said Congress will need to act in order to institute some of these recommendations, and he's optimistic that it will, even in a political climate that's increasingly hostile to federal regulation.

Mr. BOB GRAHAM (Former Florida Senator): The�members of Congress understand that this is not just a typical example of government regulating a private enterprise. This is government regulating land that the government and the people of the United States own.

HARRIS: And he hopes the commission's report will be a guide to better stewardship.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.