Maddow Tears Apart Drilling Plan Safety Claims

Under heavy fire from Republicans and oil state Democrats, the Obama Administration has sped up offshore oil production, granting six new deepwater permits in a little over a month.  Many folks who follow this issue have been dismayed at the rush to drill, concerned that adequate safety measures are not yet in place…and new intel says those fears may be on target.

Rachel Maddow, whose MSNBC show has tracked the BP spill from day one, came out swinging on Friday with some pretty disturbing information: the permitting agency (BOEMRE) has been letting oil companies move forward even without updated spill response plans.

Offshore rig (photo: Shane Lampman)

Late last month Noble Energy, Inc. received the first new permit to drill in deep water.  As Maddow describes it,

“The government says [that’s] because the oil industry has been, quote, complying with rigorous new safety standards implemented in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  According to [BOEMRE] these new permits show the industry has demonstrated the capability to contain a deepwater loss of well control and blowout.”

But when Maddow’s team asked to review Noble’s oil spill response plan, they weren’t able to find any proof backing up these claims.  “We wanted to see all of those ‘lessons learned’ from the BP oil disaster,” said Maddow, but the plan BOEMRE showed them was written in September 2009, the year before the disaster. Holy smokes.

“We contacted the government […] after we obtained this document because we thought somebody must have sent us the wrong thing.  We thought we must have been sent by accident an old version of this oil response plan.  They informed us that, in fact, we do have the most up-to-date version on hand.  They also told us that in general rig operators are eligible to get new permits while they’re in the process of revising old oil spill response plans.  So what exactly is the permitting process reviewing?”

We’re wondering the same thing.

The government and industry have been bragging to everyone who will listen that they’ve stepped up safety measures since the BP spill.  But how can we take them seriously if they won’t offer proof? BOEMRE has made some of its permitting documents public, but according to John Amos of SkyTruth, none of them show how we could respond to a spill any more capably than a year ago.  NWF is filing a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of the Interior, seeking the complete permit applications, and we will share any relevant information with you.

Concerned yet?  If not, take a look at this.  Investigators just completed their report on the Deepwater Horizon‘s blowout preventer (BOP), the device that should have stopped the spill in its tracks, and it’s not a pretty story.

In Maddow’s words, “What we have learned this week […] is that the blowout preventer in question was not built wrong.  It wasn’t broken.  And it was used as directed.”  Basically, the pressure from the blowout caused the well pipe to bend off-center, which prevented the safety mechanism from operating correctly.  You read that right: the problem that caused the accident also caused the backup safety device to malfunction. I’m not sure “engineering oversight” begins to describe how absurd that is.

For more about the Gulf oil disaster, visit