Putting the company responsible for an oil spill in charge of the cleanup creates a potential conflict of interest, the U.S. official who led the response to the BP Plc spill told an investigating panel.
Policy makers should consider giving an independent expert control of spill-response resources, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said today at a Washington hearing.
“We need to really think about what we mean by the concept of responsible party and how we want that to work in the future,” Allen told the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. “Something we might want to consider is the creation of a qualified individual that would represent the industry, oversee the response, have access to the resources.”
BP had responsibility under U.S. law to lead cleanup efforts after its Macondo well, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, blew out April 20. The explosion killed 11 workers and set off an uncontrolled leak that spewed 4.9 million gallons until BP plugged the well in mid July.
There is no indication BP was slow to deploy resources because of concern about costs, Allen said. Any delays were more likely the result of “the enormity” of the response, he said.
“The notion of supply of boom and skimmers and so forth was not an issue of funding,” Allen said. “Between BP and the United States government, there was enough money. It was actually producing it, shipping it and get it where it needed to be, once the resource requirements exceeded those in the plans” at the time, he said.
Louisiana officials such as U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, criticized BP’s response to the worst U.S. oil spill. Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, challenged BP’s initial estimate of oil gushing from the well, which were far below the actual rate.
“No one had a plan,” said William Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, told the panel. “The sense of urgency has to be on the ground with someone in charge, fully in charge here, not in Washington.”
Efforts to prevent oil from reaching the Gulf Coast shore and marshes were hampered by delays in decision-making among BP, federal and local officials, Allen said. The government added people with authority to make decisions “closer to where the oil was,” Allen said.
The spill prompted President Barack Obama’s administration to halt drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. The moratorium, which idled 33 rigs, is scheduled to end Nov. 30.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that oversees offshore drilling, have said the ban may be lifted early if companies show improved safety and was to contain oil spills.
The moratorium is costing the region from 8,000 to 12,000 jobs, according to an administration report, fewer than earlier estimates and less than predictions by groups such as Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which said the ban may cost as many as 46,000 rig jobs.
A report prepared for the commission in August by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based research group, said the suspension is no longer needed because new rules reduce the risk of an uncontrolled spill.
“I’ll be amazed if the moratorium is not lifted before Nov. 30,” said William Reilly, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and co-chairman of the commission with Bob Graham, former Democratic senator from Florida. “The kinds of questions that I have asked, Senator Graham has asked, we continue not to understand the answers and why it’s taking so long to clear 33 rigs.”
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