National Oil Spill Commission Report: Preparedness and Response Planning Shared Responsibility between Government and Industry

January 26th, 2011

“In effect, our nation was entirely unprepared for an inevitable disaster,” said William K. Reilly, co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. While a great deal of the Commission’s report, released January 11, focuses on the safety measures needed to overcome science and engineering of the elements that contributed to the Macondo well blowout, the human and management errors of BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and government regulators, and complexities of drilling in deepwater, the Commission focused a great deal of attention on the importance of preparedness and response planning measures moving forward.

The Commission recognized in its report that preparedness and response planning is vital to prevent another disaster similar to the Deepwater Horizon spill. The planning strategies of government and industry must improve. At the time of the spill, private industry did not have the response capacity that it claimed in its spill plans. Likewise, the government’s National Contingency Plan did not provide for an adequate spill response.

Specifically, the Commission recommended:

  • The Department of the Interior should create a rigorous, transparent, and meaningful oil spill risk analysis and planning process for the development and implementation of better oil spill response.

    This includes a call for a new process for reviewing spill response plans that ensures that all critical information and spill scenarios are included in the plans, including oil spill containment and control methods to ensure that operators can deliver the capabilities indicated in their response plans. The Department of the Interior should verify operator capability to perform according to the plans.

  • EPA and the Coast Guard should establish distinct plans and procedures for responding to a “Spill of National Significance.”
  • EPA and the Coast Guard should bolster state and local involvement in oil spill contingency planning and training and create a mechanism for local involvement in spill planning and response similar to the Regional Citizens’ Advisory Councils mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

    This includes a call to provide additional clarification on the differences between emergency response under the Stafford Act and under the National Contingency Plan to federal, state, and local officials.

  • EPA should develop distinct plans and procedures to address human health impacts during a Spill of National Significance.

A large culture of complacency exists in both the government and industry sectors that must change in order to prevent foreseeable events such as the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to Commission co-chair Sen. Bob Graham. Avoiding a return to the status quo is imperative to prevent a strain in public confidence – a loss of confidence that exists in the continuing effects the disaster is having on the Gulf’s local industries, economy, and wildlife and marine habitats.

Over the next two months the Commission will continue to work with the President, Congress, and private industry to “help them understand not only the specific aspects of our reform proposals, but especially the urgent need for action,” said Graham.

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