British Petroleum did not have an emergency response plan for its Deepwater Horizon drill rig; such plans direct personnel to the proper procedures for responding to incidents like the current spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 19, Liz Birnbaum, the former Director of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) who resigned yesterday morning, said the reason that BP did not complete an Oil Spill Response Plan was a reported decrease in the rig’s “worst-case scenario discharge” from 250,000 barrels a day to 160,000.
BP calculated the volume itself; the lower figure exempted the company from having to do a site-specific response plan. Instead, the company prepared a plan for the Gulf of Mexico region, where the company has many wells. (MMS referred us to this 1281-page document for a list of them; a quick count shows BP operates about 70 wells in the Gulf. A quick count using this 361-page document shows BP had more than 600 leases as well.)
A briefing paper that House Transportation and Infrastructure staffers prepared for the May 19 hearing highlighted inadequacies at MMS that may have contributed to lax safety enforcement. The paper also stated that BP was allowed to self-certify itself as safe and criticized MMS for being “too cozy” with the industry.
The Associated Press reported that MMS skipped at least 25 percent of the monthly inspections they were supposed to perform on Deepwater Horizon, which the agency called an “industry model for safety” in 2009.
The briefing paper also noted that BP knew an explosion was likely based on 14 incidents where devices in place to prevent explosions had failed.
Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP) are supposed to evaluate and determine ways to quickly mitigate disasters caused by oil spills and explosions on drill rigs. Inspections are supposed to ensure conditions and practices are good enough to limit the risk of such disasters occurring. The OSRPs also provide training to personnel on spill management and other training on how to respond in case of a spill.