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Congress needs to study spill

May 27, 2010
The Daily Mining Gazette

President Barack Obama has pledged that the "cozy relationship" between oil companies and government regulators will end. That is not the first time such a promise has been made, of course.

Obama's criticism of both government regulators and industry was prompted by the gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the firms involved there, British oil giant BP, has been the subject of skeptical reports in the past.

After an explosion killed 15 workers at a BP oil refinery in Texas about five years ago, federal investigators looked into the company's safety policies. In 2007, they released a 374-page report on the safety "culture" at BP.

Just days before a drilling rig in the Gulf exploded, resulting in the ongoing oil leak, Industry Week magazine published a story about BP and safety. It noted the government report in 2007 stated that BP "emphasized personal safety but didn't focus enough on process safety."

If government regulators were aware of that, did they take appropriate action against BP? That is a question members of Congress should be asking. According to Industry Week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stepped up oversight at oil refineries. But did anyone in the government address the concern about "process safety" at refineries or other facilities - such as drilling rigs?

In addition to learning what went wrong mechanically at the Gulf drilling rig, Congress should be looking at whether regulators paid enough attention to the overall culture at BP.



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