Oil spill commission, lobbying group at odds over industry’s credibility

The presidential commission that probed the BP oil spill and the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying group don’t see eye-to-eye.

American Petroleum Institute (API) President Jack Gerard, in an interview airing this weekend, attacks the spill commission’s report over its indictment of the offshore industry’s U.S. practices and record, alleging it’s “not based in fact.”

“They discount or fail to observe the 65 years of history we’ve had in the Gulf [of Mexico], drilling over 42,000 wells to produce the energy the country needs,” Gerard said in the interview airing on the program energyNOW! Sunday.

“They have drawn broad conclusions about the industry. They are not based in fact, and unfortunately it does a disservice to the 9.2 million hard-working men and women in the industry,” the trade group’s president adds in an excerpt released Friday.

Gerard calls last year’s disaster – which killed 11 workers and dumped more than four million barrels of oil into the Gulf – “the first time anything of this magnitude has ever happened” and warns against casting “unfounded” aspersions on the broader industry.

His comments come after the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released its final report Tuesday that calls the industry’s problems “systemic” and warns that another disaster could occur absent major reforms. The report calls for the industry’s “internal reinvention.”

The report takes direct aim at API, which the commission notes has developed technical standards and practices that have been woven into federal regulations.

“Based on this Commission’s multiple meetings and discussions with leading members of the oil and gas industry, however, it is clear that API’s ability to serve as a reliable standard-setter for drilling safety is compromised by its role as the industry’s principal lobbyist and public policy advocate,” the 300-plus page report states.

“Because they would make oil and gas industry operations potentially more costly, API regularly resists agency rulemakings that government regulators believe would make those operations safer, and API favors rulemaking that promotes industry autonomy from government oversight,” states the report. It goes on to criticize the rigor of API’s safety standards.

But Gerard, in the interview, pushes back against the report’s attack on his group, noting the standards it develops are reviewed by third parties and have helped to “elevate performance and safety throughout the entire sector.”

Spill commission co-chairman Bob Graham, who will appear in a separate interview on the energyNOW! program Sunday, defends the report’s findings about the need for broad industry reform.

Graham points out that in addition to BP, the other companies faulted in the disaster – Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean and drilling services contractor Halliburton – are large companies that operate on projects globally.

In addition, Graham – a former Democratic senator from Florida – says that “other companies in the industry knew about BP’s vulnerability and had no mechanism to deal with it.” The full program airs Sunday morning in the Washington, D.C. area on ABC 7.