Our Regulation Farce: Oil Companies Self-Evaluate Their Rig Safety Drills:
On July 24, 2009, the Gulf of Mexico office of the Minerals Management Service celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Unannounced Oil Spill Drill Program. From what we now know about the MMS, it must have been a hell of a meth-infused porn party paid for by the oil industry. Here's how it goes: "The MMS designs the drill to exercise an oil and gas and pipeline operator’s Oil Spill Response Plan and evaluates its spill management team’s effectiveness in responding to a simulated spill event."
The article continues, "A drill may consist of a table top exercise or the actual deployment of specific response equipment such as oil spill response vessels and dispersant aircraft. Every drill tests an operator’s ability to notify the appropriate contacts including federal regulatory agencies, affected state and local agencies, internal response coordinators and response contractors, as well as an operator’s ability to make decisions, respond properly, and take appropriate action."
One must wonder, though, how "unannounced" these drills were. In fact, considering what we've learned about how deeply corrupt the poor office drones at the MMS were by the cash, jobs, hookers, and football tickets dangled in front of them, one must wonder if the MMS officials tasked with evaluating the results of the unannounced drills even wrote the reports (as they allowed industry officials to write up inspections). And while much of the unethical and illegal activity took place during 2000-2008 (funny, eh?), it takes a while to root out every wormy apple in the tree.
In addition to the unannounced drills, the MMS runs "announced 'Table Top' simulations of a large oil spill." All drills are evaluated according to the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program. These are guidelines that were put into effect in August 2002. It's fascinating reading, in a total wonky way, in that embedded within this document and within the Code of Federal Regulations, are all the various ways that BP and other oil companies, in essence, police themselves and weasel their way out of all but the most minimal and eminently corruptible regulation. In other words, you wanna know why the Gulf Coast is going to hell today? Here's the gospel of that damnation.
For instance, except for the unannounced exercises, all other safety drills have "self-evaluation" and "self-certification." And, in what may as well be bowing down to BP et al, "Records [are] to be maintained at a corporate location." So, for instance, BP can conduct a certain safety test once every three years, using the equipment they allegedly have for the "worst-case discharge scenario" (make your own joke), write up the report themselves, pat themselves on the head no matter how it goes, and then file the report away in corporate HQ.
You wanna know just how toothless government regulations in the post-dereg area are? Here's 30 CFR 254.54: "In addition to your response plan, you must submit to the Regional Supervisor a description of the steps you are taking to prevent spills of oil or mitigate a substantial threat of such a discharge. You must identify all State or Federal safety or pollution prevention requirements that apply to the prevention of oil spills from your facility, and demonstrate your compliance with these requirements. You also should include a description of industry safety and pollution prevention standards your facility meets. The Regional Supervisor may prescribe additional equipment or procedures for spill prevention if it is determined that your efforts to prevent spills do not reflect good industry practices." To put that simply, write us up something and, since our agency is filled with underpaid cubical zombies who want a job in your company, we might give it the once-over to make sure everything's cool, but probably not even that.
The closest thing to any statement that's in the ballpark of an actual regulation is "Nothing in this part relieves you from taking all appropriate actions necessary to immediately abate the source of a spill and remove any spills of oil." And it seems that BP has violated that repeatedly. Otherwise, we get nonsense like "You are responsible for any required testing of equipment performance and for the accuracy of the information submitted" when it comes to booms and anything else that might save the water and land.
Everything is what "you" must take care of, even in the that worst-case: "You must ensure that the response equipment, materials, support vessels, and strategies listed are suitable, within the limits of current technology, for the range of environmental conditions anticipated at your facility."
And if they weren't? Then what? That's the problem with relying on "you." "You" may figure the cost of any little fines are easier to deal with. "You" may be the unbelievable dickhead president of a company who says, after his company killed eleven people, has sickened who knows how many more, and ruined wetlands, "The US is a big and important market for BP, and BP is also a big and important company for the US, with its contribution to drilling and oil and gas production. So the position goes both ways." "We" might want to tell "you" to "Go fuck yourself."
"You" can no longer be trusted. But, then again, "you" have run the show for so long that "you" have made it impossible for "us" to extricate ourselves from "you." And to our eternal shame, for the decades of our government's idiotic disassembling of the regulatory mechanisms in the name of unhinged capitalism, through presidents of both parties, "we" have enabled "you."