Sunday, January 16, 2011

Panel: Gov't, industry must do more to stop spills

The oil industry, Congress and the Obama administration need to do more to reduce the changes of another large-scale oil spil, a presidential panel investigating the BP well blowout concluded Tuesday.

The seven-member panel unanimously endorsed 15 separate recommendations in the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Many of the proposals will require action by Congress.

The panel calls for increasing budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling; increasing the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore; dedicating 80 percent of fines and penalties from the BP spill to restoration of the Gulf; and lending more weight to scientific opinions by other federal scientists in decisions about drilling.

The panel said Congress should draft legislation to create within the Interior Department an independent safety agency and a separate environmental office to evaluate the risks of oil drilling to natural resources.

The panel also called for an industry-led safety institute, similar to the one created by nuclear power producers after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.

The oil industry and government have taken numerous steps in an effort to improve safety since the BP blowout.

BP fired its executive responsible for deep-water wells like the one that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in September. The company also created a new unit to police safety practices in all of BP's technical operations, while the federal government imposed new regulations and a moratorium on deep-water drilling. It later lifted the moratorium.

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