Federal regulations require oil companies to prepare and submit detailed spill-response plans before they can begin drilling offshore in American waters — and rightfully so. That body of water we call the Gulf of Mexico is a rich and diverse natural resource that directly sustains a way of life for millions of residents, whether they’re employed by the multi-billion-dollar seafood and tourism industries or any business in between. Simply put, a threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems is a threat to our economy and national security.
Considering that, behold the colossal failure of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to take its policing responsibilities seriously. Before BP began exploratory drilling from the Deepwater Horizon platform, it followed federal procedure by submitting an emergency backup plan to the MMS describing how it would handle an offshore spill.
BP’s official plan, however, is full of absurd information that appears in parts to have been randomly culled from the reports of some other rig somewhere else. The report underscores BP’s lack of respect for this country’s laws and regulations.
First, BP’s oil spill response plan lists sea lions, seals, sea otters, and walruses among the mammals that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Since anybody with a decent high school education knows that these mammals would not be found even remotely close to the Gulf, it’s easy to conclude that BP’s researchers either made something up or borrowed liberally from one of its Alaskan spill response plans.
BP’s plan also lists the companies that serve as “primary equipment providers for BP in the Gulf of Mexico Region [for] rapid deployment of spill response resources on a 24 hour, 7 days a week basis.” The link BP provides for one of these companies takes you to a Japanese home shopping website.
Everyone knows the Japanese love their high-tech gadgets, but who would have thought they ordered multi-story, 100-ton oil containment domes and complicated deep-sea “top kill” devices from the convenience of their own homes?
Under the section that says “Describe special efforts taken to protect members of the community, property and wildlife,” BP writes that “No statement shall be made containing any of the following:”
a) Speculations concerning liability for the spill or its legal consequences.
b) Speculations regarding the cause of the spill. An extended inquiry may be needed to determine the actual cause, and legal liability could be affected by what is said.
c) Estimates of damage and/or value expressed in dollars, production statistics, sales volume, or insurance coverage.
d) Estimates of how long cleanup will take or cleanup costs.
e) Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal.
The last item is particularly troubling. If “property, ecology, or anything else” may not be restored to normal after a spill, then shouldn’t both BP and the federal government take the risks of offshore drilling a little more seriously, especially when it comes to oil spill response plans?
BP’s plan also includes no information about how it plans to monitor and track sub-surface oil plumes that arise from runaway wells a mile beneath the water’s surface. The report doesn’t indicate that the oil seen at the surface may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The oil-spill response plan offers no weather data, which is odd because massive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico are subject to being blown around like everything else whenever hurricanes pass through this meteorologically active region.
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national non-profit alliance protecting workers who blow the whistle on corporations that harm the environment, the report includes no information on preventing disease transmissions to captured animals in rehab facilities, “which was found to be a very serious risk following the Exxon Valdez spill.”
A substantial portion of the 600-plus-page spill-response plan is made up of lists, phone numbers, and blank forms. According to PEER Board Member Rick Steiner, “Incredibly, this voluminous document never once discusses how to stop a deep water blowout even though BP has significant deep water operations in the Gulf.”
As for the parts of the plan concerning a worst-case scenario, PEER says that BP offers “wildly optimistic projections of the maximum size of any crude spill and bland assurances that within hours of any incident ‘personnel, equipment, and materials in sufficient quantities and recovery capacity” will effectively respond the spill.
“This response plan is not worth the paper it is written on,” Steiner said on PEER’s website.