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Less than a year following the worst oil spill in history, the Obama administration has begun to hand out permits to allow oil companies to resume deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Trying to please both “drill, baby, drill” proponents along with environmental advocacy groups, President Obama has assured Americans that the safety standards have somehow improved; that a disaster like what happened last April will not happen again.
“My administration is encouraging offshore oil exploration and production as long as it‘s safe and responsible. I don‘t think anybody here has forgotten what happened last year, where we had to deal with the largest oil spill in history. I know some of the fishermen on the Gulf Coast haven‘t forgotten,” Obama recently stated. “And what we learned from that disaster helped us put in place smarter standards of safety and responsibility. For example, if you‘re going to drill in deepwater, you‘ve got to prove before you start drilling that you can actually contain an underwater spill. That‘s just common sense.”
Despite those assurances and some investigation into the disaster last year, nothing has changed. Oil companies have not done anything to change their operation and their ability to contain an underwater spill. The main safety mechanism to prevent the kind of blow out that happened is called a blowout preventer. Clever name, right? This piece of equipment is designed so that if a well blows out and the pressure from the under seafloor blows into the pipe, the blowout preventer is supposed to seal up the well, holding the pressure and the oil in. That is what is supposed to happen. That is not what happened in the case of the BP spill.
As part of its investigation into the BP disaster, the government hired a Norwegian firm to perform a forensic examination of what went wrong with the blowout preventer at Deepwater Horizon. What this firm discovered was that nothing was wrong with the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon. It was used properly and there were no defects. The researchers found that even when these blowout preventers worked as designed, they don’t work. The pressure they are designed to keep in also can blow out the blowout preventer.
The report calls for all sorts of new studies on blowout preventers and says, quote, “the findings of this study should be considered and addressed in the design of future blowout preventers and the need for modifying current blowout preventers.”
Even after this report was issued, a report that the government had specifically requested, the Obama administration continues to issue permits for deepwater drilling. The government has also continued to promise the public that the drilling is now safe.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show was able to obtain a copy of the oil spill response plan for the first deepwater permit issued by the Obama administration since the big spill. The permit was issued for a well operated by Noble Energy whose largest owner is BP. Even more astounding is that their oil spill response plan was dated September 2009- 8 months before the BP spill. So what exactly new safety standards is the Obama administration talking about?
Any lesson that was learned from the BP oil spill is not being used to make anything safer. The administration has been downplaying the significance of the old safety plan being used while they are touting some great new safety lessons. The Interior Department says that companies are allowed to go forward with permits as they update old emergency schemes. They claim that there are other safety measures that are they can’t tell us..
Even with all these new facts that have emerged, the administration continues to sell the idea that things have somehow changed. More than a week after the information was revealed about the blowout preventers; Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised energy companies for improving safety measures for offshore drilling. He said the companies have provided the government with newly required plans to contain any spill that might take place. “That’s why you’re seeing a dramatic increase in the licenses being issued in the past months,” he said.
What newly required plans is he talking about? There were big important lessons that could have been learned after the Deepwater disaster last year. Just issuing a moratorium on drilling and then letting oil companies drill the same way is not only reckless, it is not using “common sense.” As we continue to see ongoing consequences from the disaster, the oil companies and the GOP have pressured the Obama administration to cave and issue these deepwater drilling permits at a quick pace despite some real concerns about safety. There is nothing to stop another spill that also cost 11 workers their lives. Nothing at all. It is happening in Japan with the nuclear crisis, it happened in the Gulf, and it happened on Wall Street. Corporations cannot regulate themselves because it doesn’t work. Even if it makes people mad, sometimes it is better to be cautious and ensure that there are safety nets in place for any disaster. It is better to deal with that before the crisis then after.