“Delivering offshore energy to the American people is safer than ever as a result of industry’s leadership and continuous investments in safety . . . and an enhanced regulatory regime.”
That’s the marketing pitch for offshore oil drilling from Energy Tomorrow, a product of the American Petroleum Institute.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon environmental and economic catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Interior created a new department to have better government regulatory oversight of offshore drilling—the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
The oil industry points to this new government oversight when it claims that offshore drilling is safe.
However, another government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), doesn’t have the same faith in the BSEE. In a just released report the GAO cites continued structural and procedural deficiencies at BSEE which risk “weakening the bureau’s environmental compliance oversight capabilities”.
BSEE’s ongoing restructuring has made limited progress in enhancing its enforcement capabilities. In particular, BSEE has not developed procedures with criteria to guide the use of its enforcement tools—such as warnings and fines—which are among the goals of BSEE’s restructuring, according to planning documents, and consistent with federal standards for internal control. BSEE restructuring plans state that the current lack of criteria results in inconsistent actions and creates uncertainty for operators regarding BSEE’s oversight approach and expectations. The absence of enforcement criteria is a long-standing deficiency. For example, post-Deepwater Horizon incident investigations recommended an assessment of enforcement tools and how to employ them to deter safety and environmental violations. Without developing procedures with defined criteria for taking enforcement actions, BSEE continues to face risks to the effectiveness of its enforcement capabilities.
The bottom line is that government oversight of offshore drilling isn’t any better than before Deepwater Horizon no matter what the Big Oil marketing campaigns tell us.