The BP oil spill also known as Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, BP Disaster or the Macondo Blowout refer to the most dangerous oil spill ever to happen in the Gulf of Mexico or in history of oil spills. The spill was greater than previous Exxon Vlandez oil spill in Alaska and the Lxtoc oil blowout in the coast of Mexico. Its gravity and effects were dire with 11 people dead, 17 injured and dozens of anglers robbed off their means of livelihood. The blow spilled over 180 million gallons of oil that covered over 30,000 square miles. Reports indicate that the spill sealed approximately 42,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico and it took almost three months to seal the leakage. The shoreline of Louisiana remained the worst affected with over 320 square miles while shorelines of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida joining the ranks (Something.org, nd).
To add to the fouled beaches, the spill also affected the marine family by destroyed unknown estimate of marine life and ecology. Biologists and specialists in marine life and studies estimate that the effect of the spill was likely to cause an irreversible change in aquatic environment threatening the existence of organisms that inhabit such environment. It is fare to acknowledge the many efforts put to clean up the spill and natural aspects have also assisted, but it is also prudent to accept that the effects will last for decades. The spill is also historic given that it has generated an estimated 400 hundreds of suits regarding the spill. Such suit claiming negligence, lack of due care in cementing the well and use a design with defects on part of the drilling rig is Buras v. BP PLC (Griggs, 2011, p.14).
In attempting to take an informed position on this matter, it is important to review the legislative framework within which such incidents lay notably the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Popularly referred to as OPA 90; this act was enacted as an amendment to existing acts. It is a well-crafted document, I must admit, clear in its demands and objective in its coverage. Before its enactment, there was no clarity on whether the local, state or federal authorities were responsible during a major oil spillage. In contrast to the previous confusion, section 4201 of the act requires the federal government to act promptly to a spillage to contain and remove spread while taking remedial measures. Since their responsibility over land or off shore spill is clearly stated then it follows that BP spill fell under federal responsibility. Moreover, although BP assumed responsibility of controlling the spill as the responsible party, the act required a coast guard to be in charge. BP therefore acted in consistence with the regulatory requirement that demands the cooperation of the responsible party with the coast guard to contain a situation. This aspect should not pass unnoticed and that it accepted responsibility over any removal costs occasioned by the spill (BP, 2011, p.2).
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However, OPA 90’s requirement presents an aspect that is not congruent with the normal expectations. It demands a partnership between the responsible party and the government while still holding the party liable for damages cleans up costs and legal actions. Nevertheless, this requirement is congruent to preparedness in pursuance of the National Contingency Plan requirements (NCP). The NCP coordinates its activities in a two levels; national and federal. During the BP spill, the federal level under coast guard Captain Paradis handled the preliminaries and set a command center in Houma. Admiral Landry Mary later replaced him upon activation of a unified command. Opening of another command center in Houston BP offices followed. Later the spill was officially named of national scale prompting Admiral Thad to take over NIC command. Note that all the above chronology of events indicates order and prompt response (Griggs, 2011, p.11).
So where did things go wrong? The government came under sharp scrutiny and media reports on slow response were dominant. While this may be over blown, the government indeed dragged in marshalling a team to combat the spill. A bigger minus on the government lies in the fact that it took ten days to designate the spill as of national significance. The time lost due to this slow response accounts for the difficulty encountered in sealing the leak. This faults OPA 90 ability to ensure not only a timely response but also adequate response with well understanding of its magnitude. The act is conspicuously vague in what would merit the declaration of a massive spill and lacks structures to allow timely assessment of the magnitude of a spill. The absence of the above mean that response will be in futility if the size of challenge is unknown, this is because just like the BP spill the response was timely but with inadequate resources (Griggs, 2011, p.16).
BP failure results from its deception of the estimate of the spill. They started that the leak was an approximate of 4000 to 5000 barrels per day. This later proved misleading. Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Company of Columbia was able to observe an estimate of 40000 to 560,000 barrels per day leakage. Thos was an over 10-fold underestimate by BP. This action personally delayed the response of elevating the spill to national level. However, BP fault is not in question but the legislative and organizational failure of the government cannot be ignored. While OPA90 demand timely response it has no resources for assessment, this meant that the coast guard had to depend on BP reports on the spill until later (BP, 2011, p.2).
Also notable is a glaring fact that it is not until May that Columbian Lamont Doherty made their video blowout rate on the true leakage rate. A loophole therefore exists that may allow the responsible party to conceal the true impact of their action until when it is too late or the damage is too great. It also points out a lapse of judgment and organization of action. It may be true that the response team may lack in knowledge as this is not their area of expertise but assessment of the leak should have been the first priority. Amending OPA 90 to demand individual assessment of the situation not dependent on the interested party to avoid deception is necessary. This may entail a mandate to hire any services available for that purpose and impose a heavy penalty to an interested party that knowingly conceals the true damage caused by a spill or the true amount of the spill (Something.org, nd).
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BP was indeed cooperative, but is this all it takes for the responsible party? Had they fulfilled the Department of the Interior (DOI) requirements? This regulation requires that an organization operating an oilrig with potential risk of spillage take some measures and have a response plan. DOI requires demonstrations of ability to respond rapidly and effectively before approval by Mineral Management Service. It demands capability to react to the worst-case scenario that might arise from a company’s operations. If this is the requirement in place, had BP met it? The reason why it took too long to seal the leak was evidently lack of adequate response ability by BP yet expectations were that they should have demonstrated this before granting them certification. DOI requirements are specific demanding availability of equipment, their maintenance and personnel to respond to a leakage. Even a description of the recovery equipment condition and capabilities is a requirement. Could these tight requirements have escaped the notice of the regulator? Alternatively, was the BP spill so unnatural that it was outside the category of the worst possible scenario? (Restore the Gulf.gov, 2010, p.1).
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A report by the presidential committee is clear on the failure to anticipate a deepwater leakage. In my opinion, this oil spill could have been anticipated and response equipment put in readiness of response by BP. Instead of carefully analyzing the potential probability of a spill of each oil well, it conducted a blanket assessment. This lack of specifics is erroneous because predisposing factors to a spillage are not equal and identical. The company had also overrated its response equipments ability to respond to a spillage at 250,000 barrels per day. Note that this was tenth fold of what was the average oil discharge per day that it could not handle. BP documents only give a list of equipment at the site and contains no specific details on how it would handle the 250,000 barrels leakage it claims capability. There is also a reference to a contract with National Response Corporation and Marine Spill Response Corporation but no specifics. This indicates that DOI, NRC and OPA90 closed their eyes to these anomalies intentionally or otherwise (BP, 2011, p.2).
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In comparison to past hazardous material operation disasters, BP, government and other stakeholders responsible for a disaster failed in a number of ways. It is in regard to this that as an officer in command or one involved in emergency response of hazardous material operation, I would recommend a number changes. From the above analysis, it is evident that both BP and the federal response operation failed in their emergency response planning. On its part, BP had their response plan full of loopholes leading to the lagged response. First, they lacked a detailed planning in place to combat such a crisis. In leading a team that is responsible for such an operation, I would institute the use of a Risk Assessment Matrix that interrogates the potential riskiness of a leakage against their probability and degree of occurrence. Unlike BP’s system, this would be specific to an oil well not a blanket analysis (emmergencyresponse, nd, p.1).
Another recommendation in leading such a hazardous material operation is use of modern equipment and update of information constantly. Various parties agree that BP response was utterly inadequate. Its plans regarding emergency preparedness could not measure to the disaster at hand. I recommend use of modern technology to track oil plumes of sub-service oil. The use of this would have given BP information on meteorological and oceanographic information. I would recommend focus on human resource. As a commander, I would have regular training of individuals in readiness of such a leakage such as Hazpower. This would impart skill and cultivate mental preparedness to the worst-case scenario. In addition to the basic training focus on contingencies such as systems, failure and worker’s safety would be an area of focus. I recommend that BP should have added the above in their response arrangements and include a bonus payment scheme to motivate the workers on such a mission (emmergencyresponse, nd, p.1).
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In conclusions, BP’s cooperation with the government should not close our eyes to the imminent reality of failure and evidence of non-compliance. It is clear that though the situation later contained by rallying equipment and individuals to the site, it was after clarity had dawned that BP did not possess the response capacity and preparedness it claimed. Its contingency response program failed to address technological needs that would address a deepwater leakage situation. BP CEO Tony Howard admitted that they lacked in facilities needed (Griggs, 2011, p.16).
The government’s efforts and commitment to making things right can neither close the door of reality of the policy implementation failure on its part. OPA 90 is supposed to address such a contingency supported by other structures such as the NRC and DOI yet they all failed to enforce compliance to what the law demands. It is clear that the institutions should have noted a disparity between what BP claimed and what they could proof to earn certification. The structure had no problem by itself but its implementation. It is my advised opinion that in addition to the recommendations made above pertaining to hazardous material operation, insistence on compliance to law be paramount. Lastly, the government should ensure that officers charged with the mandate to protect the nation from such hazards live the gospel contained in acts such as OPA 90, NRC or DOI (Griggs, 2011, p.16).a
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