Panel: Gov't, industry must do more to stop spills

Washington, D.C. – The oil industry, Congress and the Obama
administration need to do more to reduce the changes of another
large-scale oil spil, a presidential panel investigating the BP
well blowout concluded Tuesday.
The seven-member panel unanimously endorsed 15 separate
recommendations in the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in
U.S. history. Many of the proposals will require action by
The panel calls for increasing budgets and training for the
federal agency that regulates offshore drilling; increasing the
liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore; dedicating
80 percent of fines and penalties from the BP spill to restoration
of the Gulf; and lending more weight to scientific opinions by
other federal scientists in decisions about drilling.
"It is our government's responsibility that exploration and
extraction occur in ways that are beneficial to the country,"
panel co-chair and former Florida Senator Bob Graham said.
"Drilling offshore is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be
exercised by private corporations."
If the recommendations are not carried out, "the probability of
another failure will be dramatically greater," Graham said.
The panel said Congress should draft legislation to create
within the Interior Department an independent safety agency and a
separate environmental office to evaluate the risks of oil drilling
to natural resources.
U.S. regulations for offshore drilling should be at least as
stringent as those in other oil-producing nations and require oil
companies to adopt safety procedures common elsewhere but lacking
in the Gulf, it said.
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar, said in a statement Monday that the department already has
"undertaken an aggressive overhaul" to increase safety and ensure
responsible oil and gas development.
"We have made significant progress over the last eight months,
but these reforms must continue," Barkoff said.
The panel also called for an industry-led safety institute,
similar to the one created by nuclear power producers after the
1979 Three Mile Island accident.
The oil industry and government have taken numerous steps in an
effort to improve safety since the BP blowout.
BP fired its executive responsible for deep-water wells like the
one that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in September. The company
also created a new unit to police safety practices in all of BP's
technical operations, while the federal government imposed new
regulations and a moratorium on deep-water drilling. It later
lifted the moratorium.
Additionally, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Michael
Bromwich established an internal affairs unit to expose improper
relationships between companies and regulators. He has vowed to
improve inspections, and required operators to show that they are
prepared for a potential blowout and massive oil spill.
New drilling proposals also will have to undergo more thorough
environmental reviews, and meet new safety standards that apply to
all deep-water operations.
Part of the problem has been with Congress and successive
administrations that have not provided the agency with the
resources needed to carry out its mandate. Fixing that problem will
be especially tough in a new Congress with a House dominated by
Republicans keen on reducing budgets and the regulatory reach of