• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Oil Spill Commission Ignored Mechanical Causes of Spill

    President Obama’s oil spill commission spent six months examining the “root causes” of the Gulf disaster, yet never inspected the failed blowout preventer — the part of the well that could have, as its name suggests, prevented the explosion.

    At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing this week, the co-chairmen of the National Oil Spill Commission faced a barrage of questions from Republicans and Democrats about why their final report is long on regulatory recommendations but short on engineering explanations.

    Lawmakers took issue with the commission’s apparent lack of effort to explain the failure of the blowout preventer. Republicans said it calls into question the commission’s recommendations — and, more seriously, leaves the Gulf vulnerable to a similar malfunction in the future.

    “Why should we take [the commission] seriously if [it] did not even make that modicum of effort to determine the actual cause of the disaster?” asked Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). “We’ve never had a blowout failure like this one. Until we find out why it failed, it could happen again. It could happen anytime — and the commission has not advanced our understanding of how to prevent that. … We have before us a report recommending bureaucratic solutions to engineering problems authored by bureaucrats rather than an engineering solution authored by engineers.”Up until Wednesday’s hearing, the oil spill commission has largely avoided sharp questioning. Its 381-page final report on “The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling” was released earlier this month, the result of six months of research.

    Republican lawmakers expressed alarm that the commission — made up of Obama appointees who lack engineering experience — would offer recommendations without attempting to identify the precise mechanical cause of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

    “We still don’t know what caused the explosion,” said Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). “We don’t know how or why the blowout preventer malfunctioned.”

    Commission co-chairman and former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) responded: “It is true that no one at this point has had the benefit of a full examination of the blowout preventer. What we do know is that it didn’t perform as it should have.”

    When Obama created the commission last May, its top priority was to “examine the relevant facts and circumstances concerning the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.”

    The commission’s report heavily explores the human error and managerial mistakes behind the spill — again, at the relative expense of exploring the technological causes. It could have done both, McClintock said, citing the work of the Rogers Commission, which examined the causes of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

    “When the Challenger exploded, people only knew one thing for sure after the accident — that this was a launch that was fatal and catastrophic,” he said. “The Rogers Commission was a panel that was filled with technical experts that painstakingly recovered the wreckage from underneath the ocean and reassembled that wreckage and then determined the precise cause of the disaster. It then recommended changes so that the space program could move forward.”

    Commission co-chairman William Reilly deflected criticism and defended the report. Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, drew an interesting analogy.

    “I think you can draw an analogy between a blowout preventer and a seatbelt in an automobile accident,” Reilly said. “It’s obviously important to the survival of someone that a seatbelt wasn’t fastened, but it doesn’t really explain why the accident occurred. We explain why the accident occurred. We identified all the major contributors. … Examining the blowout preventer is not going to cause those other factors that we have covered to go away. They are there, they are distressing and they do have implications for policy.”

    Those policy implications worry some committee members. The report’s imbalance suggests a desire to limit the capabilities of the oil industry, which is evident from the phrase “systemic, industry-wide failure” — without examples from more than three companies to back up its use. In fact, the report implies the need for a complete governmental overhaul of the industry when no such overhaul is needed.

    “Here’s the issue,” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.) said. “Congress has considered legislation, the Department of Interior has issued new regulations, lease sales have been canceled, other areas of potential offshore activity have been put off-limits again and it’s all based on a report that doesn’t give a full post-mortem of what happened.”

    Even committee Democrats questioned the report’s most sweeping claim.

    “Some of the verdicts, sometimes even just the words used in the report, I kind of have some concerns about,” said Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.). “One was the use of the term ‘systemic,’ that there are ‘systemic’ problems in the industry. If you look at a 30-year history, over the last 30 years, the history of the offshore oil industry, there have been some incidents, but I think a major incident is very rare and, if you compare it with the airline industry or the consumer trade industry, the oil and gas industry has done quite a good job.”

    But Reilly and Graham stood behind this conclusion. While the report only cites as safety offenders three companies, those companies are highly prevalent in the industry, they said.

    “It is simply inconceivable to us that this is a problem so exclusive, so especially circumstantial to one rig,” Reilly said.

    That perspective is likely to shape future policymaking, a point that wasn’t lost on Flores. “This report is being relied upon to continue moratoria, either de facto or regulatory or however they want to be described, and it goes back to this ‘systemic, industry-wide’ failure comment.”

    Going one step further, Flores asked the commission to remove the phrase from its report.

    “Based on what I see, and the weight which this report is being given for the energy future of this country, I would respectfully ask the commission to remove from the report the phrase, ‘systemic, industry-wide failure.”

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    20 Responses to Oil Spill Commission Ignored Mechanical Causes of Spill

    1. Bobbie says:

      The commission was working tirelessly on mandates and regulations while avoiding any reason to expose the actual cause. America doesn't deserve this.

    2. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Foundry: Conservative Policy News. -- Topsy.com

    3. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Facts (stuff all reported by HF):

      The rig was granted an award from the feds.

      The federal inspectors were not doing their inspections of the rig.

      The federal regulators often granted waivers to the operators of that rig.

      The feds often let the operators use their federal computers for personal use (including downloading porn). (reported elsewhere)

      Why is the federal paid commission not looking at the mechanical problems?

      Because it will expose the failure that is the federal government.

      Because it will expose the real fault of this disaster.

      Obama got nearly a million dollars from BP as a campaign donation.

      We pay the feds big money to do jobs they say is important and vital. We trust them. They operate in secrecy and often are caught in lies and they obfuscate the facts so the perceived need for them grows. The commission reports to the federal king pin, the President. That report had nothing more to do then to cast a good light on the feds and cast blame where it could remotely be believed.

      The thing is in good federal form, they failed at that too.

      This is an example where the District of Columbia has far too much power and reach into our lives. I God Honestly believe a private sector oil production organization in conjunction with insurance companies would have done much better job at inspecting and regulating the operations of the rig. I think they would have operated in a professional manner with full transparency. First and foremost, they would not have failed their client (who they want to ensure is profitable –to pay their membership fees). They also will be diligent about inspections, because unlike the feds, they will be held accountable for their failure.

      The feds grow upon failure and the perception of failure. It is to the advantage of the feds to fail as they did here, Because as a result, MMS did get bigger. It is now has two bodies and many more high level federal employees (who are paid even more!) Also being that federal employees are nothing more than a tax paid extension of the Democratic party, they were very effective in doing their bidding for the left. They effectively shut down US off shore drilling.

      I contend that if the MMS was actually a private sector insurance/industry inspection service/organization the BP rig would be fully operational today and we would have a fully functioning gulf coast oil production. The fact is the feds did their job. They continue to suck the hard earned incomes of the American People for their personal gain, they shut down the American oil production and they protected their own skin in the process.

      There has never been a greater need for mandated external federal oversight than now.

    4. Bruce Anderson, Bois says:

      A TV interview (possibly NBC) of a survivor of the explosion/fire on the oil rig, right after the explosion, was conducted. The survivor (jumped off the inflamed platform and swam thru burning oil), who had been in charge of some system (computers?) on the rig had been topside before the explosion when he witnessed a worker with a fistful of hard rubber debris that had come up out of the drill hole/pipe. He knew that the rubber debris had to have come from a major seal in the blowout preventer and expressed concern to the supervisors that were standing around. They "blew him off," he said. Has this been investigated?????? —-prior knowledge of a damaged blowout preventer ignored????

    5. William Downey, Worc says:

      A former EPA administrator doesn't feel that examining the blow out preventer fully would have any impact on the root causes of the disaster. Who would have thought?

    6. Charlie, Louisiana says:

      Last I heard, the BOP had been given to the FBI??? by DOJ. I assumed that at some point "real" engineers would get their hands on it – but have never heard a thing. It's been 5 months now since it got raised and still no word??? What the heck???

      AP… The 50-ft-tall, 300-ton device was successfully removed from the Macondo well by the Helix-operated Q4000 intervention vessel on Sept. 3, after the drillship Discoverer Enterprise removed the BOP’s capping stack the

      previous day. The BOP was lifted to surface Sept. 4, and was taken into custody by the Justice Department as evidence in its ongoing investigation into the incident.

      Just one more example of the Obama Administration's basically flawed makeup. They refused to confront the real problems in HealthCare – Insurance companies and Lawyers unregulated, out of control and gave us 2,000 pages of crap. They failed to recognise Credit Default Swaps as weapons of mass economic destruction in the financial world and regulate that endeavor as well. They regulate what doen't need it and Massively Fail to regulate what really needs to be. C- for Obama. PLEASE make him a one term wonder…….

      Failure to pinpoint the "Three-Mile Island, Challenger, Chernobyl REASON" for the BOP's role in this basic trifecta of failure for the leak is inexcusable. It was another rush to justice. Seatbelts my ___. I want to know what happened. I still don't. My tax-dollars NOT at work,,, again….

    7. Julius R. Garrett, s says:

      I dare the good Senators to ask the U.S. Coast Guard , if the submarines owned by the Latin American Drug Cartel, are capable of diving to the ocean floor (in the Gulf, which mostly is shallow in many places) and if, in their (USCG) opinion, such submarines could approach & damage/sabotage the mechaical equipment at the floor of the drilling and suction mechanics of the equipment? There has been very limited media exposure of these subs, however, we do know they exist & can carry a substantial crew. What else could they be carrying?

      This just might be an area that needs to be watched & examined more intensely, because they (Cartel) might be planning something bigger later on. The USCG should have a lot of information on these subs, which seems to be cloaked. Give 'em a call! THE USCG—not the Cartel!!

    8. Tom Davidson, Richmo says:

      The Commission was not looking for engineering answers to "why did it happen?" They were looking for excuses to advocate increased government control of something. They found what they were looking for. Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:"

    9. John Stevenson, Circ says:

      This was a political report, not a scientific report that informs the industry and the American people.

    10. Lloyd Scallan (New O says:

      Thank God! Finally someone is addressing the real cause of the actual spill, not just the reasons for the blowout. Wells do blowout, but BOP's rarely, if ever fail. The real question is "WHY"? The Obama lackeys on this "commission" are again diverting attention away from finding answers.

      This BOP has been sitting in the open, exposed to weather, behind gaurded fences inside a NASA facility near New Orleans for months. Now, disagreements and finger pointing are further delaying examination, thus answers.

      Two important factors must be considered. One, this spill gave Obama the "crises" he needed to shut down offshore drilling. Two, since this BOP is "hydraulically" operated, one well placed saboteur could compromise the system, thus causing the failure, then the spill. Do not be fooled into the deceptive diversion of what caused only the blowout. The blowout itself did not cause the spill and the disaster that resulted. Failure of the BOP did!

    11. Scott Carver says:

      This committee was created by a Government (Obama) that told them, these are the conslusions we want you to reach, and the recomendations we want you to make. Now go out there and justify them.

      This wasn't about finding the cause, or preventing it from happening again. This was all about making Obama's ban on drilling look like the right choice. It's PR, and nothing else. Just like Obama refused help from other nations until it was over, this commettee ignored the offers of assistance from engineers with actual oilfield and deep-water experience. Why? Because they didn't want any facts getting in the way of their conclusion.

      The American people should be screaming for blood about this time. Where's the outrage. Obama's stooges just handed him justification for eliminating tens of thousands of high paying oilfield jobs and probably hundreds of thousands of jobs in related and support fields. All without a shread of physical proof that this was anything but a tragic accident. People need to start demanding that their congressmen and senators rebuke this PR report and demand for a real investigation into the Gulf Oil Disaster. They need to demand the lifting of the ban on Oil Exploration in the Gulf by US Companies, and they need to demand that the President be held accountable for his actions.

    12. yaakov haimovic , is says:

      President Obama policy towards the USA is much more dangerous to Israel then

      his ostility towards Israel itself (and western civilisation).

    13. Charlie, Louisiana says:

      for Julius R. Garrett:

      Drug subs have no pressure hull and would be crushed at a depth exceeding 20-feet. They run semi-submerged, or mostly, except for a conning tower & snorkel, to avoid radar detection. They leave a significant IR heat signature and are fairly easy to spot from the air,,, these subs are far less capable than you might think. Only another country's gov't would have a manned sub capable of sabotaging a well-head or subsea pipeline manifold and that would constitute an act of war. A deep-sea submersible could theoretically place an explosive, but so far, they are being used for peaceful purposes and access to them is well controlled. Again, subversive use of one of these would be viewed as a hostile act requiring a significant military response.

    14. Charles Sainte Clair says:

      The investigators of the Challenger disaster certainly didn't go to bureaucrats for answers. They weren't looking for excuses they were looking for concrete answers to make sure it didn't happen again by the same cause. To do that they spent thousands of hours to determine precisely what that cause was. This required engineers, not bureaucrats.

    15. Chris, N. VA says:

      Systemic? Industry-wide?

      Well, by all means, we can then conclude that our government has a systemic problem that is Congress-wide, wherein we have a political population that is routinely engaged in immoral sexual contact with Interns and staff; has freezers in every office and residence stuffed full of "cold" cash for those rainy-day emergencies we all have; is everywhere and in every instance rife with members who are blissfully unaware of even the three branches of government (perhaps even unsure of which one they currently inhabit); aren't sure exactly which extraterrestrial body we've managed to land upon; and, with a majority of them being highly(we think)-educated lawyers, are utterly baffled and confused by the intricacies and unplumbable depths of this Consititution thing-a-ma-jig that they so solemly swear at -er, um, I mean – to uphold.

      Sounds like quite a systemic infestation problem we've got there. 'Tis a wonder to behold, 'tis.

    16. Peter LaFontaine, Wa says:

      If we knew the ultimate cause of the BOP malfunction, how would it change the situation? From where I stand the answer seems to be "not much at all." I also think this angle of attack is disingenuous for the simple reason that the report dedicates pages and pages to examining the technical causes of the disaster. At best, forensic analysis of the BOP will only result in more stringent technical specifications and regulation, and I'm willing to bet that the same folks criticizing the report now will be screaming bloody murder then, too.

      As for the recommendations, you're entitled to your own opinion but I think everyone can agree on a couple of things:

      * Deep water oil and gas exploration has outstripped our spill response capacity.

      * The offshore oil and gas industry should be held to the highest possible safety standards.

      Isn't the real question "How do we prevent another disaster?" Forensic analysis of the BOP will contribute to our understanding of the small details, but its absence doesn't invalidate the Commission's other findings–that our regulatory system and industry oversight is inadequate to the task at hand.

    17. Spiritof76, NH says:

      This is another political commission, useless at best.

      Following the Challenger disaster, there was an enquiry commission and it included scientists and engineers including the Nobel prize winner for physics, Dr.Richard Feynman. There the cause was isolated to the seal material failure due to cold temperatures. As a result, corrective action was taken for the subsequent flights.

      Defund the Dept. of Energy, scrap the commission and defund the EPA. We can not afford stupidity leading our way into the future.

    18. Silverpoodle,Ca says:

      How many pressure gauges were on this BOP? Was there either an excessive increase then decress in pressure?? There must have been some irregularities in the readings. Lots of unanswered questions!!

    19. Grady, Florida says:

      Mr LaFontaine didn't think that analysis of the blow out preventer would tell us much and then states:

      "* Deep water oil and gas exploration has outstripped our spill response capacity."

      The blow out preventer is a major part of the risk mitigation for spills. If the blow out preventer had worked and sealed off the well, the spill portion of this incident would have been minimal in comparison. I think that analysis of the blow out preventer may tell us how/why it failed. This may suggest industry standard changes for the blow out preventers to hopefully prevent this from happening again.

      Of course the current administration also knows how to keep this from happening again this close to home. Stop US drilling for oil. It won't help anywhere else in the world, as other countries aren't going to stop. Spills can still happen close to home, as other countries will drill in the gulf. But we can stick our heads in the sand for the technical reasons and just move forward with political solutions. Great job guys.

    20. Peter LaFontaine, Wa says:

      Grady:

      On the contrary, I think the analysis of the BOP will give us useful information and is particularly relevant for tighter new standards. Nobody is saying we shouldn't examine the BOP. If you re-read my comment you'll see, however, that I don't think this info will change our overall understanding of what occurred. We know the BOP failed; the details are important but so too is the knowledge of what else went wrong.

      You caution against a strictly "political" solution to the problem of oil spills. But consider the other side: Nobody thought this could happen given the state of drilling technology today–I'm no Luddite, but this disaster showed just how foolhardy it is to rely entirely on machines. The system failed on multiple levels: technological, regulatory, and cultural (as in, the half-baked approach to safety taken by BP and its subcontractors). Any solution needs to address all of these failures, not just one.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×