A recent report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of the Interior has revealed some condemning information about the oversight of offshore drilling operations. The analysis conducted by OIG, which is charged with auditing and investigating executive departments, focuses on the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) offshore oil and gas permitting program.
After the BP oil spill disaster, OIG made a number of recommendations for the government regulators of offshore drilling to make to ensure safe industry practices. Four years later, however, the Bureau has failed to make several central recommendations, which OIG notes “are critical to BSEE’s efficient management of offshore oil and gas permits…”.
OIG has noted that BSEE, which oversees offshore drilling safety, operates with little oversight from headquarters. This creates a system of inconsistent regulation for the regional offices in how they grant permits. These internal problems mean that BSEE is not accomplishing its basic functions of ensuring that safe operations take place with respect to offshore drilling.
The timing of this report is particularly relevant considering more permits are being approved now than before the BP Gulf disaster. The high number of permit approvals, plus BSEE’s lack of effective management of offshore drilling, creates a recipe for disaster in our oceans.
In the end, poor permitting means poor oversight, and poor oversight means offshore drilling is not conducted in ways that protect marine life and ecosystems.
Given BSEE’s institutional shortcomings with its permits, it’s no surprise that rigs don’t operate with a necessary degree of safety. In response to a 2013 explosion on an oil rig off of Louisiana that killed three workers, BSEE conducted an investigation and released its findings that there was a “lack of a safety culture” aboard the rig.
Industry and government regulators alike have proven to be incapable of drilling offshore in ways to minimize impacts to the environment. Before we expand offshore drilling to new and unchartered areas like the Atlantic Ocean, we should be ensuring that the way business is done on current offshore operations is safe.