Editorial: Finally closing in on BP?
If the charges are eventually filed — and especially if they are proven — it will raise serious new questions about how much trust Gulf Coast residents can put in assurances from big oil companies about how safe offshore drilling actually is, and more importantly about how committed they are to drilling safely.
And the company itself could face criminal charges for violating the Clean Water Act.
According to reports, including in The Wall Street Journal, a federal task force in New Orleans — which has included taking testimony before a grand jury — is focusing on whether BP employees misled federal regulators about the actual risks of the well being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon and whether the employees violated rules designed to maintain safety margins.
In particular, investigators have been looking at how well drillers monitored and maintained a crucial pressure measurement inside the well designed to prevent the kind of blowout that caused an explosion that killed 11 people, led to the destruction and sinking of the rig and gushed millions of gallons of crude oil and natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico.
The import of these charges is clear: If true, BP ignored well-established regulations to engage in risky behavior that eventually resulted in disaster.
We and others have criticized the federal government for failure to rigorously apply drilling regulations to BP's operations. But unless regulators are at every drill site and looking over drillers' shoulders 24/7, at some point the responsibility falls on the companies and their employees to follow the regulations.
There has been much speculation that BP and/or its contractors cut corners on the Deepwater Horizon to save money and time on what was already an expensive operation. If that's what happened, it was a horrific mistake that led to disaster.Everyone on the Gulf Coast should be watching closely as this case proceeds. Before it's over, we should know a lot more about the kinds of risks we face from offshore drilling.