First of all, having grown up in the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, I am utterly tickled that the oversight agency involved in offshore drilling is called the MMS. That is damned funny. The Buzzard. Heh.
Now. Check this out.
LOS ANGELES — The federal agency responsible for ensuring that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that inspections be done at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Since January 2005, the federal Minerals Management Service conducted at least 16 fewer inspections aboard the Deepwater Horizon than it should have under the policy, a dramatic fall from the frequency of prior years, according to the agency’s records.
The last time this rig was even cited for anything was August 2003. Seven years ago. No way in hell a big oil rig like this goes seven years without some sort of violation. No way. Nuh-huh.
The inspection gaps and poor recordkeeping are the latest in a series of questions raised about the agency’s oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry. Members of Congress and President Barack Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.
Among the dubious oversight practices, the MMS has reportedly allowed hundreds of drilling plans to move forward without required permits since Obama took office.
So, sure, one can lay some of this mess at Mr. Obama’s feet. However, as I indicated yesterday, there is a larger issue at work here. If Obama’s guilty of anything, it’s of continuing to view the political landscape with rose-tinged field glasses. He may have failed, I think, to grasp the scope of the long-haul war being waged against sensible government regulation and enforcement. Sure, OSHA has been damned near activist in its enforcement efforts under Hilda Solis, at least compared to its previous Rip Van Winkle pose. But OSHA is only a more visible link in a much larger regulatory chainmail. If you mean to step up regulatory activity, you might want to approach it more holistically than to focus on your top-notch agencies.
Earlier AP investigations have shown that the doomed rig was allowed to operate without safety documentation required by MMS regulations for the exact disaster scenario that occurred; that the cutoff valve which failed has repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years since regulators weakened testing requirements; and that regulation is so lax that some key safety aspects on rigs are decided almost entirely by the companies doing the work.
Here’s what I know from my brief professional involvement and long-time study of regulation and enforcement: It works. I guarantee you, when there is an injury or a death in industry, you will find that in the course of that incident, an employee was failing to comply with federal regs in one way or another. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt, or he wasn’t following the floor plan, or he hadn’t properly locked out a machine, or he was wearing a hoodie while working around a conveyor. It’s always something that’s covered in the CFR. Always.
Look, I dig capitalism. I really do. But capitalism unchecked is a monster. The fact is that you need government to create markets, and you need it to force the market players to accountability. The proof is in the headlines. Just look.