A thorough review of BP's oil spill response plans for the Gulf of Mexico region and the Deepwater Horizon rig makes it painfully clear the company did not take emergency planning seriously.
The flawed plans help to explain why the response to the worst oil spill in United States history has been haphazard and inadequate.
The plans, which were approved one year ago by a federal government asleep at the switch, dismissed the dangers posed by the type of uncontrolled leak that continues to cause unprecedented environmental damage to the marine and shoreline ecosystems of the Gulf states.
And they grossly overstated the ability of the company previously known as British Petroleum to respond to a spill.
The spill response errors and omissions uncovered by an Associated Press analysis of the 582-page regional spill plan for the Gulf and 52-page site-specific plan for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig are numerous, egregious and sure signs of negligence on the part of the company.
The plans should have been rejected without hesitation by the federal Office of Mineral Management. The fact the agency accepted BP’s worthless planning documents reinforces the claim that lack of federal oversight played a key role in this oil spill disaster.
Here are some examples of just how far off the mark BP’s oil spill response plan really was:
• BP claimed that if oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon rig, the company would deploy enough boats to scoop it up before it could reach the shore.
“Due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected,” BP officials stated in the plan.
We’ve seen enough soiled beaches by now to know how absurd that claim is.
• The plan fails to mention the Gulf’s loop current and its ability to convey oil slicks hundreds of miles around Florida’s southern tip and up the Atlantic coast.
• BP suggests in its plan that it has the resources to skim, suction and remove some 20 million gallons from the water each day.
On Tuesday, a government panel of scientists said that somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.5 million gallons spill into the Gulf each day, eight weeks after the deadly blast. The slick covers more than 3,300 square miles and has completely overwhelmed BP oil recovery efforts.
• The spill scenarios detailed in the plan by BP are about 10 times worse than what’s actually happening. Yet in those planning scenarios, fish, marine mammals and birds escape serious harm, beaches aren’t fouled with oil and water quality is just a temporary problem.
Compare that with the reality of dead birds, turtles and fish washing ashore, oiled beaches and polluted waters – a despoiled ecosystem that might never recover to prespill conditions.
Some of the other errors would be laughable, if not for the tragedy that continues to unfold. For example:
• The phone numbers listed for the marine mammal stranding network offices in Louisiana and Florida are no longer in service.
• The website for the Marine Spill Response Corp. – one of the two firms BP uses for equipment to clean up oil spills – links to a defunct Japanese-language page.
• The names and phone numbers of marine life specialists at Texas A&M University, specialists BP would rely on for advice in response to an oil spill, are wrong.
It’s abundantly clear that BP didn’t really have a plan for responding to a catastrophic spill. Trust us, they, along with federal regulators, said to the public.
BP and the federal oversight agency violated that public trust. The full force of the law must be used to hold all responsible parties accountable for the economic and environmental misery they have caused.