Oil spill panel calls for higher standards

Monday - 1/17/2011, 10:31am EST

Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

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In the aftermath of the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama convened a panel to investigate the circumstances that lead to the spill.

The panel released its findings, and called on the administration, Congress and the oil industry to do more to prevent another such disaster.

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fl.), the panel's co-chair, told the Federal Drive that the oil industry had succumbed to a "culture of complacency."

The BP oil spill was not the result of "one rogue company" but systemic industry problems, Graham said.

The panel recommended secure sources of funding for regulations and greater emphasis on the competence of regulators. The leases could be used a way to fund regulation, Graham said.

"Almost all of the regulated industries pay the cost of their own regulation. I think the oil and gas industries should do the same," he said.

Over the last 20 years, the oil industry has moved from drilling in waters of 1,000 feet or less to deeper and deeper waters. The Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling at 18,000 feet below the water's surface, Graham said.

Explosions like this one are rare, but Graham alluded that -- without regulation -- future spills could be worse than what's happened in the past.

"We think it's inherently more risky to be operating in those distant and high-pressured areas, and therefore, whatever the record has been in the past is not necessarily indicative of what will happen in the future as a larger percentage of drilling is in this area," he said.

The oil industry would not be the first to undergo regulatory reforms after a catastrophe. The gas industry set high regulatory standards after the Bhopal disaster of 1984, and the nuclear industry did the same after the Three-Mile Island Accident in 1979.