Last year’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill stemmed from a “failure of management” by BP and the other companies involved in the construction and operation of the ill-fated Macondo well, a national commission investigating the cause of the disaster has found.
“Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them,” the commission said in a chapter of its final report, released late Wednesday.
Republicans and some Democrats are already attacking the Obama administration's decision last month to abandon a March 2010 proposal to allow oil-and-gas leasing off the Atlantic Coast and deeper into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Drilling advocates are also pushing Interior to begin issuing deepwater drilling permits now that the formal moratorium imposed after the spill was lifted in October.
The Macondo well blowout was the result of “several individual missteps” by BP; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig; and Halliburton, which cemented the well, the commission found. The report also faults government officials, saying they “lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent” such a disaster.
The "missteps" include "inadequate risk evaluation," "a flawed design for the cement slurry used to seal the bottom of the well," and "apparent inattention to key initial signals of the impending blowout," among other things, the report says.
But the commission’s report says BP alone cannot be blamed for the spill because it was a result of “systemic” problems within the oil industry.
"The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again," the report says. "Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur."
BP, Halliburton and Transocean all saved money as a result of their decisions, but the commission stopped short of accusing the companies of making decisions for fiscal gain.
“Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money),” the report says.
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling was formed by President Obama in May and has been investigating the Gulf disaster for months. Commission staff have previously released a series of draft reports critical of the oil industry, the Interior Department and the White House. The commission released just one chapter of its final report Wednesday — the rest will be released Jan. 11.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — a senior Democrat who opposes wider drilling — quickly said the spill commission's findings show that the industry remains unsafe. "This report shows that the causes of this environmental disaster were systemic and that the underlying profits-over-safety pathology may be in temporary remission, but not fully cured," said Markey in a statement Wednesday.
“This report shows that this disaster was not inevitable, that it was preventable, and that new reforms are still needed before the industry can be deemed safe," added Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Interior Department said Wednesday that it has been working for months to address the issues identified in the commissions findings. “The report released today reflects areas DOI has already identified, acknowledged, and spent months working aggressively to reform,” the department said in a statement. The Interior Department has issued a series of sweeping offshore drilling safety rules in the aftermath of the spill.
BP, in response to the partial commission report, highlighted the finding that it wasn’t the only company at fault in the disaster.
"Today’s release largely adopts the preliminary findings of the Commission's Chief Counsel, and like several other inquiries, including BP's internal investigation, concludes that the accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple companies," the oil giant said in statement.
The company also highlighted its efforts to improve safety, including creation of a Safety & Operational Risk division.
"BP is working with regulators and the industry to ensure that the lessons learned from Macondo lead to improvements in operations and contractor services in deepwater drilling. Even prior to the conclusion of the Commission’s investigation, BP instituted significant changes designed to further strengthen safety and risk management," BP said.
Transocean sought to shift blame for the spill to BP and the federal government in a statement.
“Consistent with industry standards, the procedures being conducted in the final hours were crafted and directed by BP engineers and approved in advance by federal regulators,” a Transocean spokesman said. “Based on the limited information made available to them, the Transocean crew took appropriate actions to gain control of the well."
Halliburton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
—This story was updated at 7:10 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.