Oil Spill Commission, working paper #6

The Government released working paper #6 yesterday, documenting the interactions between BP officials and government officials as they scrambled to cap the Macondo Well during its 5-month gush fest. ScienceInsider provides a good summary of the most interesting points.  Notable collaboration FAIL:

At first, because the Department of Energy researchers did not have a formal role within the “Unified Command” structure set up to control the gusher, they were shut out of meetings for the first month or so. The effort bumbled through the top hat, junk shot, and top kill strategies—all of which failed. “While MMS [U.S. Minerals Management Service], the Coast Guard, and Dr. McNutt worked out of offices on the third floor of BP’s Houston headquarters, the national labs team sat on the 18th floor,” the report notes.

But my absolute favorite excerpt (in a sad way) from the working paper describes how helpless MMS was, both in its oversight of deepwater drilling before the spill, and its limited ability to supervise the spill response efforts.

MMS was the sole government agency charged with understanding deepwater wells and related technology, such as BOP [Blowout Preventer] stacks…One MMS employee asserted that BP, and industry more broadly, possessed ten times the expertise that MMS could bring to bear on the enormously complex problem of deepwater containment. Another pointed out that MMS has trouble attracting the most talented personnel, who are more likely to work in industry where salaries are substantially higher.  A third MMS employee stated that he could count on one hand the people from the agency whom he would trust to make key decisions in a source control effort of this magnitude.  Perhaps most revealingly, two MMS employees recalled high- level officials at the Department of the Interior asking what they would do if the U.S. Government took over the containment effort. Both said they would hire one of the major oil companies.

No wonder MMS was re-branded!  Given that description, you could hardly call it a ‘regulatory agency’!

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