Who’s to blame for the Gulf oil gusher? We break it down
We all know there’s a lot of blame to go around for the ongoing disaster in the gulf. In the weeks since the Horizon rig first came unglued, all the principals in this mess have taken turns pointing fingers at one another. Now, it’s our turn. We applied Grist’s scientific, who’s-fault-is-it-really, assessment method. The results are now in. And the proud winners are . . .
BP, 37 percent
Topped the chain of command on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Took risks to lower costs. Cut corners on testing cement. Failed to implement safety measures like an acoustic switch. Misled about its ability to prevent spills in deep water. Overruled crew objections on day of explosion. Grossly underestimated the rate of the spill.
Minerals Management Service, 11 percent
Long history of cozy relationship with oil and gas industry, including a busy revolving door. A “culture of ethical failure,” [PDF] according to the Interior Department’s inspector general, including scandals involving sex, drugs, and gifts from regulated corporations. Allowed oil and gas companies to set safety standards and procedures. Cut back number of safety inspections. Regularly granted oil companies exemptions from environmental studies. Top management overruled objections from staff biologists and engineers about safety and environmental impact. Let oil companies evaluate own performance, and even turn in reports written in pencil that MMS staffers would then trace over in pen. Failure to collect billions in royalties from oil companies — “a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling,” the inspector general says. Read more about MMS corruption and incompetence.
Barack Obama, 9 percent
Failed to make sweeping changes across the Interior Department and at the Minerals Management Service specifically, though it was clear from that start of his tenure that the agencies badly needed reform. (He’s finally acting now.) Too deferential to BP on estimates of the disaster’s scale, on cleanup, and on use of dispersants. Too slow in projecting a “take charge” image and getting cleanup moving. Too slow in using the disaster to call for real reform of our energy system (though he is now finally doing so).
George Bush & Dick Cheney, 9 percent
Pushed more, more, more drilling — offshore, onshore, everywhere. Staffed MMS with industry-friendly cronies and allowed it to become a “candy store” for oil and gas companies. Failed to reform MMS even when corruption scandals erupted. Hacked away at regulatory structure across the board, clearing the way for industry to do what it pleases.
Congress, 5 percent
Weak oversight of regulatory agencies like MMS. Failure to require cutting-edge safety measures, such as acoustic switches. Ongoing support, including tax breaks and incentives, for offshore drilling. Insufficient support for alternative sources of energy. Failure to pass effective and meaningful legislation to reform energy system.
Transocean, 2 percent
In charge of operation of rig, meaning that failure of any equipment, including blowout prevents, was its responsibility. Rig crew may have missed warning signals before explosion. Has vague emergency procedures.
Halliburton, 3 percent
Possible contamination of cement used to seal well at Deepwater Horizon rig. Possible leak of natural gas through cement seal.
The Rest of Us, 22 percent
We drive. We fly. We buy gizmos and food shipped long distances. We consume petrochemicals via our clothes, furniture, gadgets, painkillers, cosmetics, magazines, meals. And we don’t fight hard enough to change the system.