7. Safety fears linger a decade after catastrophe
Michael Bromwich, the blunt former Justice Department official who reshaped drilling regulation in the aftermath of BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster, is worried that safety isn't getting the attention it deserves 10 years after the crisis.
What they're saying: Bromwich criticized the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement — one of the agencies he helped create — for changes to blowout preventer and well-control regulations that he and other critics called a big rollback.
- In an interview with Axios, he also criticized the posture of current BSEE director Scott Angelle for saying that the agency is a "partner" to the oil-and-gas industry.
- “These are not statements that ought to be coming from the industry’s chief regulator,” Bromwich said.
The other side: Angelle has defended the agency's oversight, and industry and Interior officials say the rule changes made the regulations smarter without compromising safety.
- And, Debra Phillips of the trade association American Petroleum Institute tells the Washington Post that Trump administration changes to offshore oversight have "been mischaracterized as rollbacks."
Catch up fast: Bromwich joined the Interior Department in June of 2010, when oil was still gushing out of BP's ruptured well.
- He oversaw reforms that broke leasing, safety and revenue collections into separate units, imposed safety mandates and set new regulations in motion.
Threat level: Bromwich said the federal government now has a stronger hand to ensure safety than it did before the disaster, even though he says the current administration is not focused enough on safety.
- “Even as weakened, the well control rule provides additional basis for confidence that companies are required to take steps that lower the risk” of major new accidents, he said.
- More broadly, he said “the agency has the tools now to be able to lower the risk of future disasters like Deepwater Horizon,” but also notes: “The real question is to what extent, how aggressively, are they being enforced.”
- Bromwich and others also note the industry has taken steps since the spill on safety and response, such as the 2010 creation of Marine Well Containment Company, a nonprofit industry consortium designed to bolster response and control capacity for accidents at deepwater wells.
But, but, but: He's concerned that the collapse in oil prices will lead companies to pare resources for training and safety. That "could have unfortunate consequences down the road," he said.
The big picture: His concerns are echoed more broadly by members of the bipartisan commission that probed the accident and spoke to the New York Times.
- “We are slightly better prepared than we were ten years ago but nowhere near where we need to be,” Bob Graham, former Florida governor and senator who co-chaired the panel, told NYT.