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May 5th, 2010

Safety Award for BP? You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

British Petroleum was to receive an award for its pollution control methods at an Interior Department- sponsored event yesterday. The agency, however postponed the event, with no confirmed date for when it will be held again. Fishing communities along coastlines are waiting with dread for the Transocean explosion-related spill to reach their shores.  Fishing activities have been prohibited in the areas affected by the oil spill. In a situation like this, it would have been absurd to go ahead with the event, where one of the winners of the evening would have been BP with its “exemplary” safety record.

Meanwhile, a report on ABC today asks questions about why the Interior Department has touted the safety of the offshore industry so much. Last year, Transocean Ltd., was the proud recipient of the SAFE award. In handing over the award, representatives of the Minerals Management Services called Transocean’s drilling safety record “outstanding,” and fawned over the company’s safety performance. Part of Transocean’s safety program that helped it net the award, was a safety video that was filmed on the deck of the semisubmersible rig, Deepwater Horizon. Workers are seen singing and dancing on the deck, extolling the virtues of “keeping your hands clear,” as they perform various tasks on the rig.

Now, the same rig, or what remains of it, is resting at the bottom of the sea, and 11 workers are dead. Maritime injury lawyers will ask questions about whether the MMS has carried out its regulatory responsibilities properly. The agency has not been entirely scandal-free, and there have been complaints of an unholy nexus with the oil and gas industry. In 2008, an inspector general at the Interior Department alleged that there were “inappropriate relationships” between regulators and the industry.  The relationships included industry parties, where the alcohol flowed freely, and there was plenty of sex and drugs on demand.

The role of the MMS in the Transocean oil rig explosion is bound to come under heavier scrutiny. This week, a government watchdog body called on Henry Waxman, who is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to look into whether MMS had carried out its duties of regulating the oil and gas drilling industry, effectively.

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