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Oil Spill Commission Final Report Blames Deepwater Disaster On 'Systemic Failures'

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The presidential commission appointed to study the Deepwater Horizon disaster concludes in its final report that the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of mistakes by numerous parties "that reveal such systemic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry."

 The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling was created by President Obama on May 22, 2010, to determine the cause of the disaster, improve the country's ability to respond to spills and to recommend  reforms to make offshore energy production safer.

In a 398-page report to the president released in January, the commission said that the April 20, 2010, explosion that killed 11 crew members was a failure by both industry and government. 

"Investments in safety, containment, and response equipment and practices failed to keep pace with the rapid move into deepwater drilling," it said. "Absent major crises, and given the remarkable financial returns available from deepwater reserves, the business culture succumbed to a false sense of security. The Deepwater Horizon disaster exhibits the costs of a culture of complacency. . . . 

"But that complacency affect government as well as industry. The Commission has documented the weaknesses and the inadequacies of the federal regulations and oversight, and made important recommendations for changes in legal authority, regulations, investments in expertise, and management." 

As a result of its six-month investigation, the commission concluded: 

  • The explosive loss of the Macondo well could have been prevented.
  • The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of

identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such

systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of

the entire industry.

  • Deepwater energy exploration and production, particularly at the frontiers of

experience, involve risks for which neither industry nor government has been

adequately prepared, but for which they can and must be prepared in the future. 

  • To assure human safety and environmental protection, regulatory oversight of

leasing, energy exploration, and production require reforms even beyond those

significant reforms already initiated since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Fundamental

reform will be needed in both the structure of those in charge of regulatory oversight

and their internal decisionmaking process to ensure their political autonomy,

technical expertise, and their full consideration of environmental protection concerns. 

  • Because regulatory oversight alone will not be sufficient to ensure adequate safety,

the oil and gas industry will need to take its own, unilateral steps to increase

dramatically safety throughout the industry, including self-policing mechanisms that

supplement governmental enforcement. 

  • The technology, laws and regulations, and practices for containing, responding to,

and cleaning up spills lag behind the real risks associated with deepwater drilling into

large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and thousands of

feet below the ocean's surface. Government must close the existing gap and industry

must support rather than resist that effort. 

  • Scientific understanding of environmental conditions in sensitive environments in

deep Gulf waters, along the region's coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more

drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate. The same is true of the human and natural

impacts of oil spills.

The commission's report is divided into three sections. 

Chapters 1 through 3 describe the events of April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon and the events leading up to it in the preceding decades - especially how the dramatic expansion of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was not met by regulatory oversight capable of ensuring the safety of those operations. 

Chapters 4 through 7 lay out the results of the commission's investigation in detail, including the engineering and operating choices made in drilling the Macondo well, attempts to respond to the oil spill, and the impacts of the spill on the Gulf Coast's natural resources, economy and people. 

Chapters 8 through 10 present the commission's recommendations for reforms in business practices, regulatory oversight and broader policy concerns. 

Click here to download the commission's final report.