Like other oil companies seeking permits for offshore drilling projects in U.S. waters, BP was required to submit an oil spill response plan to the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a sub-agency of the U.S. Interior Department. The question is whether anybody in the federal government actually read it before giving BP its offshore drilling permits?
A careful review of BP's 583-page oil spill response plan by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals, shows a document that is "studded with patently inaccurate and inapplicable information," according to the PEER assessment.
The BP Regional Oil Spill Response Plan - Gulf of Mexico, dated June 30, 2009, covers all of the giant oil company's offshore operations in the Gulf, not just the Deepwater Horizon, which caused the massive oil spill that is spreading out of control and threatening fragile ecosystems and local economies all along the Gulf Coast. The BP regional oil spill plan for the Gulf of Mexico:
- Contains no information about tracking sub-surface oil plumes from deepwater blowouts such as those now billowing from the damaged oil well that the Deepwater Horizon was drilling before it exploded on April 20;
- Lists "Sea Lions, Seals, Sea Otters [and] Walruses" as "Sensitive Biological Resources" in the Gulf, showing pretty clearly that some portions of the plan were copied from plans previously prepared for Arctic exploration;
- Gives a a Japanese home shopping website as the link to one of its "primary equipment providers for BP in the Gulf of Mexico Region [for] rapid deployment of spill response resources on a 24 hour, 7 days a week basis;"
- Contains no information about preventing disease transmission (such as viruses or bacteria) to captured animals in rehabilitation facilities, which was identified as a serious risk after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989;
- Includes no information about currents, tides, prevailing winds, possible hurricanes or other oceanographic or meteorological conditions, even though such data are essential for effective oil spill response; and
- Directs BP media spokespeople to never make "promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal."
The chapter on "Worst Case Discharge" offers assurances that within hours of any incident, regardless of size, "personnel, equipment, and materials in sufficient quantities and recovery capacity to respond effectively to oil spills from the facilities and leases covered by this plan, including the worst case discharge scenarios" will be deployed.
Obviously, things didn't work out according to plan in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"This response plan is not worth the paper it is written on," said PEER Board Member Rick Steiner, a marine science professor and conservationist, who pointed out that many of the 583 pages in the BP plan are nothing more than lists, phone numbers and blank forms. "Incredibly, this voluminous document never once discusses how to stop a deep-water blowout, even though BP has significant deep-water operations in the Gulf."
According to the Minerals Management Service, there are approximately 4,000 offshore platforms producing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly half are "major platforms" and nearly 1,000 of those are manned by workers.
Given the scope of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the laxity of U.S. regulation and oversight to date, PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said: "We ought to be losing sleep that there is still no sane spill response plan for the Gulf.