The BP Oil Spill
Regulatory Failure Contributes to Eco-Disaster in the Gulf
For years, Americans have debated the merits of drilling for oil off of U.S. shores. The discussion has largely focused on three themes: the ongoing effort to find and tap sources sufficient to sate the nation’s all but insatiable thirst for oil, the similarly insatiable thirst by large energy companies for maximum and immediate profit, and fears about a hypothetical ecological disaster.
On April 20, 2010, the fears of disaster stopped being hypothetical, when a deepwater oil well operated by BP burst into flames and eventually sank, destroying the drilling riser running from surface of the Gulf of Mexico to the wellhead some 5,000 feet below. The disaster sent tens of thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf every day for days, weeks, and months to follow.
While BP and its contractors clearly bear the blame for the spill, government regulators missed the chance to prevent this worst-case scenario, as well. Even as efforts to staunch the flow of oil and clean up the mess were getting under way, CPR Member Scholars joined in the effort to identify the regulatory causes of the spill, and to propose ways to prevent a recurrence, as well as to develop reliable response mechanisms that protect both the environment and worker safety.
|Explore CPR's CatastropheWatch Interactive Map of the BP Oil Spill to see how hollowed regulation and hobbled law combined to help cause the BP spill and then complicate recovery.
In September 2010, CPR Member Scholars CPR Member Scholars Alyson Flournoy, William Andreen, Rebecca Bratspies, Holly Doremus, Victor Flatt, Robert Glicksman, Joel Mintz, Daniel Rohlf, Amy Sinden, Rena Steinzor, Joseph Tomain, and Sandra Zellmer, together with CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin, dissected the chain of regulatory failure that contributed to the disaster, and offered policy recommendations for fixing the problem. Read Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence
, CPR White Paper 1007.
Earlier that same month, Member Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies, Alyson Flournoy, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, Rena Steinzor, and CPR Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz published the results of their examination of the federal government's efforts to protect clean-up workers in the Gulf. While largely positive about efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, they found that the response demonstrated that the federal government is not currently prepared to make real-time decisions about safety protections for cleanup workers when the next disaster strikes, because OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are relegated to limited roles for planning for and implementing regulations related to oil spill disasters under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the statute governing oil spill response. As a result, the federal government's advance planning for disaster response doesn't adequately incorporate agency expertise best suited for planning for worker safety issues in disaster cleanup. Read their report, From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers
- One-Year Anniversary. Read Rena Steinzor's op-ed on lessons unlearned from the BP disaster, Business as Usual in the Gulf, published April 21, 2011, in the Baltimore Sun.
- CatastropheWatch. Read about CPR's CatastropheWatch project, exploring the roles that the regulatory and litigation systems play in catastrophes like the BP oil spill, the Massey mine disaster, Katrina and more.
- Hobbled Law Meets Hollow Regulation. Read The BP Catastrophe: When Hobbled Law and Hollow Regulation Leave Americans Unprotected (CPR White Paper 1101), a March 2011 report revealing the unreasonable constraints placed on the victims and survivors of the BP disaster in their effort to recover damages from the mega-corporations behind the disaster. The report was written by CPR Member Scholars Alyson Flournoy, Sidney Shapiro, William Andreen, and Thomas McGarity, joined by CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin. CPR also created an Interactive Map of the BP Oil Spill, offering a bird's-eye view. Read the news release, and Sidney Shapiro's day-of-release blog post.
- Regulatory Blowout. The BP spill and all that followed was in great measure the result of regulatory failure. In October 2010, CPR Member Scholars Alyson Flournoy, William Andreen, Rebecca Bratspies, Holly Doremus, Victor Flatt, Robert Glicksman, Joel Mintz, Daniel Rohlf, Amy Sinden, Rena Steinzor, Joseph Tomain, and Sandra Zellmer, together with CPR Policy Analyst James Goodwin dissected the chain of regulatory failure that contributed to the disaster, and offered policy recommendations for fixing the problem. Read Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (1 meg download), CPR White Paper 1007. Read the news release.
- OSHA's Role. Read CPR’s white paper on the need to strengthen OSHA’s hand in protecting worker safety during responses to future disasters, From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers, CPR White Paper 1006, by CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies, Alyson Flournoy, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, Rena Steinzor, and CPR Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz, September 2010. Read the news release. Read a day-of-release blog post by CPR's Ben Somberg.
- CPRBlog. Read Member Scholars’ entries about the BP oil spill on CPRBlog.
- Alabama op-eds. In a July 18, 2010 op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser, and in an August 8, 2010 op-ed in the Mobile Press-Register, CPR Member Schoolar William Andreen explains that offshore oil drilling is inherently dangerous, and policy makers and regulators should not underestimate the risks.
- Raleigh News & Observer op-ed. In a July 5, 2010 op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer, CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt argues that the BP spill demonstrates the dangers of ignoring the need for worst-case analysis.
- Baltimore Sun op-ed. In a June 18, 2010 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, "Time for a Regulatory Revival," CPR President Rena Steinzor explains why the BP Oil Spill is symptomatic of a larger regulatory failure.
- Farber on the NewsHour. In a June 14, 2010 appearance on the PBS NewsHour, CPR's Dan Farber discusses liability issues for BP.
- LA Times op-ed. In a May 20, 2010 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, CPR's Holly Doremus and her UC-Berkeley colleague Eric Biber say that the Administration's proposed regulatory reforms in response to the BP oil spill fall short.
- Houston Chronicle op-ed. In a May 10, 2010 op-ed, CPR's Victor Flatt wonders, "Did a single week reverse energy fortunes forever?," referring to the confluence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the approval of the Cape Wind project by the federal government.