Mining Disaster Report Criticizes Federal Regulators

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Mining disasters have a lot in common with the natural and made-made disasters we usually discuss in this blog in that both natural and human factors play a role.  In the cases of the  BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Upper Big Branch Mine Failure (April 2010), the federal agencies charged with regulating the industries failed to do their jobs adequately.  The most recent major U.S. mine disaster was discussed in Pro Publica on Oct. 1st. ‘Lack of Leadership’ by Regulators Put Miners at Risk, Gov’t Report Says

Federal mine-safety regulators have failed to take tough enforcement action against mines with a history of repeated violations, according to a government report released this week. The Labor Department’s inspector general faulted the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s “lack of leadership” in administering a program that was supposed to catch mines with patterns of violations.

Oil Spill Update – June 18

Latest news this am:

Obama’s spill recovery chief will be part-time.  Yesterday, I noted his lack of experience with long-term recovery from disaster and today we learn he will keep his existing, demanding job. This appointment does not make good sense, in my opinion.

President Barack Obama’s point man charting a new future for the oil-poisoned Gulf Coast  will do the job part-time. Some environmentalists said the job demands someone’s full attention.

His job is no less than rebuilding a region that was still suffering from Hurricane Katrina and beset by decades of environmental problems even before the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Why Living Wills Fail. NYT June 17.  In my view, this articles points out one more reason not to use template plans for emergency response.

At the Tuesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment,  the committee posted  the Gulf of Mexico spill-response plans of five companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell) “… that demonstrated striking, peculiar and disconcerting similarities.

… it turns out that all the plans were written by the same subcontractor. All contain some goofy details — including how to protect walruses, sea lions and seals, which don’t actually live in the Gulf. More worrying, given the apparent and complete failure of the BP response at Deepwater Horizon, it appears that none of the major oil companies are more (or less) prepared for such events. [The firm was identified as The Response Group.]

President Obama is now experiencing a form of backlash against years of regulatory capture — and against the pathetic nature of “living wills” for failed deepwater oil wells. If he is able to draw any more general lessons — and this remains far from clear — the president would be well advised to reflect on other activities that are simply so dangerous that our obvious and repeated regulatory weaknesses mean we would be better off simply prohibiting those activities (e.g., some kinds of drilling, or having big banks).

BP oil spill: MMS shortcomings include ‘dearth of regulations’. According to the Christian Science Monitor, June 17,  a new report got to the core of problems at the Minerals Management Agency.

The federal agency charged with overseeing the offshore oil and gas industry was ill-prepared to do its job because of a severe shortage of inspectors, a “dearth of regulations,” and a “completely backwards” approach to investigating spills and accidents.
Mary Kendall, acting inspector general for the Interior Department, shown in this May 26 photo, testifying about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing.