A new report, released today by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), shows that oil and gas companies drilling offshore in the Gulf of Mexico continue to suffer major safety lapses three years after the BP spill and that penalties are still insufficient to deter risky practices.
The report, prepared by Rep. Markey's staff on the Natural Resources Committee, analyzes data from the Department of the Interior (DOI)--including company-by-company data, which has not been publicly disclosed before--to assess progress over the last three years, comparing accidents, inspections, safety violations and civil penalties before and after BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"Oil and gas companies with the worst safety records in the Gulf before the BP disaster continue to spill oil, lose control of their wells and rack up safety violations today," said Rep. Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. "We need to make sure these companies change their ways and pay a price for their risky practices. Unfortunately, House Republicans have blocked legislation to strengthen regulatory enforcement and raise penalties for offshore safety violations."
Rep. Markey also sent letters today to BP and the Environmental Protection Agency expressing displeasure that BP has refused to provide information and documents related to the company's guilty plea of obstructing Congress. Rep. Markey asks EPA not to lift BP's debarment from receiving federal contracts until the company has provided the requested documents.
"First, BP lied to Congress when I asked for information about the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf," Rep. Markey said. "Now, BP won't provide me information about why company officials lied. Until it comes clean and cleans up its act, the government should not be in business with BP."
The data in the report -- "Dangerous Drillers: Offshore Safety Lapses Continue Three Years After BP Spill" -- show some positives. The number of injuries from offshore accidents is down 50 percent over the last two years, as DOI has been more aggressive in handing out violations, and companies have less frequently lost control of their wells -- as happened in the BP spill -- since DOI adopted stronger regulations in 2010 following the catastrophic blowout at BP's Macondo well.
However, the companies with the most safety violations before the BP spill are still racking up the most violations today, and a number of companies, including Chevron, Shell and Apache, have spilled oil into the Gulf or lost control of wells both just before and after the spill. Even BP has been cited for more major offshore safety violations in the last two years than before the spill.
This record suggests that closer scrutiny and heavier penalties are needed. The data show, however, that facilities of companies with the most safety violations are still no more likely to be inspected than other facilities; that civil penalties are being imposed at about the same rate as before the BP spill; and that when such penalties are imposed, they are typically minuscule compared to company profits.
Part of the problem has been the refusal of House Republicans to pass legislation to improve offshore drilling safety, as called for by the independent presidential commission that investigated the spill. The House Republican leadership has not even allowed a floor vote on legislation introduced by Rep. Markey that would authorize higher sanctions for safety violations and establish a permanent dedicated industry fee program to support offshore drilling inspections and enforcement.