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According to former members of the National Commission on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP Oil Spill, offshore drilling safety has improved, but congressional gridlock still poses a threat. Congressional failure to adopt budgets and offset automatic spending cuts known as sequestration has reduced funding for offshore drilling programs and impedes safety measures.

A report issued by the Oil Spill Commission Action (OSCA) on offshore drilling safety commended lawmakers for passing the RESTORE Act, which would give 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines to Gulf states affected by the 2010 spill for coastal restoration, yet blasted Congress for not pursuing the panel's recommendations to raise the $75 million liability cap for spills and increase funding for spill response. The OSCA said the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) is churning out better environmental impact statements before opening new areas for leasing, while the enforcement arm of Interior's offshore program, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) was slow to institute the panel's recommendations in 2012 after quickly rolling out regulations after the 2010 spill.

Congressional budget delays in the long run could be expensive to both oil companies who will wait longer to obtain needed permits and to the nation if reduced resources diminish the quality and care of the government's oversight activities, according to the panel which keeps tabs on federal implementation of their 2011 suggestions. The report also said that individual companies are adopting internal operating procedures that should significantly increase safety, and industry associations are developing numerous improved standards that govern the operations of their members. In addition, the panel noted that industry has significantly expanded the quality and quantity of the equipment needed to respond to a spill.

Last year, Royal Dutch Shell faced challenges in launching Arctic drilling in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas, halting its Arctic plans for this year. Interior is now requiring Shell to devise a comprehensive plan for its Arctic operations and to undergo a third party review of its safety systems.

Posted in: Regulatory News
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