WASHINGTON -- The presidential commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill has recommended stricter government regulation of the energy industry and the creation of an independent safety agency within the Interior Department to help protect against another oil disaster, the panel said in its final report.
Without those sweeping changes, the nation is at risk for another catastrophic oil spill, the panel said.
"If dramatic steps are not taken, at some point another failure will occur, and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did industry, why did the American people allow this to occur," said Bob Graham, the panel's co-chairman and a former Florida senator and governor.
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The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling says in its new report that the energy industry needs tighter regulation.
The panel also called for 80 percent of whatever fines are ultimately assessed against BP and its partners to go toward restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, which has suffered from environmental damage and coastal erosion long before BP's well blew out last spring.
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The seven-member panel, known as the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, was appointed by President Barack Obama a few weeks after the explosion occurred April 20. The blast killed 11 rig workers and caused the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.
The report delivered a harsh indictment of the U.S. oil industry, strongly suggesting that the United States lags far behind other oil-producing nations, such as Norway and Great Britain, in safety regulations. The panel also called for greater training and better pay for federal regulators and urged the Obama administration to improve the science needed to regulate the highly technical and complex deep-water drilling, as the industry pushes to explore still deeper sources.
"The Deepwater Horizon did not have to happen," Graham said. "It was both foreseeable and preventable. That fact alone makes the loss of 11 lives and injury and enormous damage even more tragic."
William Reilly, the panel's other co-chairman, said most of the recommendations can be accomplished through regulatory changes at the agency level and do not require congressional approval or large expenditures. The new safety agency could be funded by oil revenues, he said.
The panel blamed the three partners in the well -- BP, Halliburton and Transocean -- for the spill, which spewed almost 5 billion gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
"These were not the product of a single rogue company," Graham said. "We believe they unveiled systemic failures within the oil and gas industry and within the regulation by fed government of that industry."
BP, which has long sought to shift at least some of the blame for the disaster to Halliburton and Transocean, expressed support for the panel's finding that the disaster was not caused by BP alone.
"Given the emerging consensus that the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of multiple causes involving multiple parties, we support the commission's efforts to strength industry-wide safety practices," the company said in a statement. "We are committed to working with government officials and other operators and contractors to identify and implement operation and regulatory changes that will enhance safety practices throughout the oil and gas industry."
Halliburton disagreed with the panel's findings about the quality of the cement it supplied for the well job, and said in a statement that the commission had "selectively omitted" information the firm had supplied to the commissioners and had attempted to correct a "mistaken conclusion" about a key stability test.
A spokesman for Transocean, which owned the rig, said its workers were "well trained" and that the final procedures on the rig were directed by BP engineers.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade organization, expressed dismay at the industry criticism in the report.
"This does a great disservice to the thousands of men and women who work in the industry and have the highest personal and professional commitment to safety," Erik Milito, an API executive, said in a statement. "The explosion was a tragic accident that never should have happened. But an accurate assessment must acknowledge all the facts, such as the numerous concrete actions that industry has taken both before and since the accident. ..."
Sponsored LinksThe report includes a chapter that was released last week detailing a series of mistakes the well partners made that led to the disaster. Reilly, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency when it oversaw the cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, described the decision making on the Deepwater Horizon that led to the blowout as "inexplainable choices."
The 138-page report also called for raising the liability cap for damages from an oil spill above $75 million and establishing an industry-run institute similar to institutes set up in the wake of the 1984 chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in Pennsylvania.