Former drilling chief warns of oil spill threat

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The former director of the Minerals Management Service blasted inaction by the federal government on offshore oil drilling safety Thursday and warned that the United States is “on a course to repeat our mistakes.”

Elizabeth Birnbaum’s piece in The New York Times came almost four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, in which BP’s Macondo well blew out, causing oil to spill for 87 days. She wrote the piece along with Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for United States oceans at Oceana, an environmental group.

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“But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety,” they wrote.

Birnbaum and Savitz said that some recommendations were accepted, including restructuring the federal government’s oversight of offshore drilling.

Officials had promised to set new standards for well blowout preventers by the end of 2012, following a report that BP’s blowout preventer was ill equipped to handle the task. But such rules have not come out.

They authors warned that the expansion of drilling into new places in the Atlantic Ocean could be even more harmful to the environment. The government will allow seismic air guns to search for oil, but they could kill dolphins and whales if proper standards are not followed.

“As we commemorate one of the worst environmental disasters in United States history, we hope our leaders can rethink the expansion of offshore drilling, put real safety measures in place in the gulf and chart a course for safer and cleaner solutions to end the need for this risky business in the first place,” they wrote.