Gulf spill showed problems are industry-wide, Graham says


Bob Graham, co-chair on the National Commission on the BP Oil Spill speaks at the Graham Center for public service in Pugh Hall on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 about the report the commission recently published.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.

Former U.S. Sen. and Florida Gov. Bob Graham said Thursday that last year's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was both foreseeable and avoidable.

"This was the largest man-made disaster in the history of the country," he said.

Graham, co-chairman of a presidential commission investigating the spill, presented the group's findings at his namesake center for public service at the University of Florida.

The commission conducted a six-month investigation into the April 20, 2010, explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people and led to hundreds of millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf.

He said the commission's report, released Jan. 11, showed that the spill was not due just to the actions of one rogue company. Instead, he said, it revealed larger problems in the oil industry and a lack of government oversight. The problems were exacerbated by the fact that deep drilling was done in an area with a reputation for being especially difficult, he said.

"We ended up having the company with the worst individual safety record drilling on the most dangerous area of the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

He said other countries require preventative measures and outline the risks associated with a particular site before allowing drilling. He pointed to the oil industry in the North Sea as a example, saying that for every one death related to drilling in those rough seas, there are five deaths in the more tranquil Gulf.

"That is a stunning statistic and revealing as to the level of safety that has been practiced not just by BP," he said. "Those are industry-wide numbers."

Graham, a Democrat, served as chairman of the commission with William Reilly, a Republican and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush. Reilly had been scheduled to speak at UF with Graham, but an East Coast snowstorm prevented him from traveling to Gainesville.

The two appeared Wednesday before U.S. Senate and House committees. Graham said they received a positive reception before the panel in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but House Republicans questioned the commission's expertise while avoiding discussion of its actual findings.

"It was clear that there's going to be a significant amount of resistance to doing anything ... I think that's a prescription for yet another disaster," he said.

The commission's report proposes using 80 percent of the estimated $10 billion to $20 billion in fines collected from the spill on restoration. It recommends changes to the agency that oversees drilling, separating its responsibility to collect money for oil leases from its monitoring of safety and the environment.

Given the fact that Gulf drilling is done on public lands, Graham said, it makes sense to have strong regulations in place.

"I believe that like any prudent landlord ... you don't want your tenant to be trashing your property," he said.

He questioned the mantra of "drill, baby, drill," saying the U.S. lacked the oil reserves to make such as policy sustainable. The U.S. would deplete its oil reserves in 2031 if it tried to be completely independent of foreign oil, he said, while it would run out in 2068 if it maintained current consumption rates.

"We have a choice. We can either let our children live in an America which has drained itself dry," he said, "or we can leave it to our grandchildren to live in an America that drained itself dry."

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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