Change of Leadership for BP Oil Spill Response/Recovery

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Allen Steps Down From Oil Spill Response, N.Y. Times, Oct. 2, 2010.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen stepped down from his position as leader of the response and clean-up of the BP oil spill on Friday as planned, transferring oversight duties to Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, who is based in New Orleans.

Long-Term Recovery Plan issued for Gulf after BP Oil Spill

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America’s Gulf Coast; A Long Term Recovery Plan after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 130 pp. Sept.29, 2010. The report does not have a table of contents or an executive summary. The only summary I could find was the press release.

The first 20 pages are the body of the report.  A series of Recovery Planning Checklists are included in the report, which are interesting.  This is more specific guidance than has been offered to state and local officials than provided to date by any federal officials, to my knowledge. The BP Oil Spill disaster is important, since it is the only example we have of all phases of emergency management taking place under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act/National Contingency Plan rather than the  Stafford Act /National Response Framework for major-to-catastrophic size disaster.

I welcome comments and feedback.

Related articles:

Legal Conflicts re BP Oil Spill Disaster Plans and Response

Lawmakers Question Coordination of Federal, Local Responses to Emergencies
by Rob Margetta, CQ Today, September 22, 2010 [Subscription service.]

Two of the major issues that emerged in a recent House hearing on the SP Spill are ( 1) conflicts between state and federal laws, and (2) which federal dept. should have the lead for disaster planning and response.

After hearing descriptions of a disconnect between Louisiana officials and the Coast Guard during the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, members of the House Homeland Security Committee said they may have to re-examine the laws that connect the state to the federal government during emergencies. Craig Paul Taffaro Jr., president of St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, told the committee that his state has different authorizing legislation for response efforts than other Gulf Coast states.
“Louisiana law specifically grants emergency powers to local authorities . . . during times of declared disasters,” he said. “This construct seemed to create a bureaucratic obstacle that has plagued the coordination of the response effort throughout.”

The problem, Taffaro said, is that the Clean Air Act (PL 101-549) and other federal statutes governing emergency response do not recognize or mesh well with the Louisiana system. Local authority was met with “resistance, exclusion and power struggles” after the spill, he said.

The Homeland Security Department (DHS) was expected to take a leadership role after the spill, Thompson said. “Yet, as we all now know, the department did not have a role in reviewing or assessing the plans for the response and recovery of this type of disaster,” he added. Instead, the agency in charge of regulating offshore platforms — then known as the Minerals Management Service, a bureau within the Interior Department — was responsible for the plan. Coast Guard officials testified that their agency had no role in overseeing the Deepwater Horizon emergency procedures.

With regard to which federal agency/department should have the lead role,

Sheila Jackson Lee, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, said DHS needs to be at the center of all response planning, adding that DHS would have been more appropriate than Interior in the case of Deepwater Horizon. “The backbone of response has to be Homeland Security,” the Texas Democrat said.

The situation reflects other regulatory issues that affect DHS, Thompson said, including the fact that the Federal Emergency Management Agency plays a role in reviewing the nuclear power plant emergency response plans required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. FEMA is unclear on whether it should be working with the NRC, plant owners or local authoritiesThe Homeland Security Department (DHS) was expected to take a leadership role after the spill, Thompson said. “Yet, as we all now know, the department did not have a role in reviewing or assessing the plans for the response and recovery of this type of disaster,” he added.

Instead, the agency in charge of regulating offshore platforms — then known as the Minerals Management Service, a bureau within the Interior Department — was responsible for the plan. Coast Guard officials testified that their agency had no role in overseeing the Deepwater Horizon emergency procedures.

Administrative changes needed to improve federal preparedness and response

Oil spill containment boom, shown holding back oil

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In an article titled All Together Now, there is a discussion of the coordination needed at the federal level for disasters generally and for an oil spill in particular.  The article is subtitled: Collaboration-minded feds discover that getting agencies to work together is easier said than done.

Also on Sept. 15th, the Washington Post had a short news item regarding the management consulting study now underway at the new a bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), which formerly was the Minerals Management Service.  In case you forgot, that is the agency that mismanaged the BP Oil Spill.  The article notes that the McKinsey Co. study will not be completed until next year. A few more details are in this Wash Post note.

Let’s try not to have another spill until the results are know and implemented!

Worker Safety During Oil Spill Cleanup

Rarely is adequate consideration given to the health and safety of workers engaged in cleaning up after a disaster, and the BP Oil Spill Disaster is no exception.  From Ship to Shore: Reforming the National Contingency Plan to Improve Protections for Oil Spill Cleanup Workers

BP’s foul up is not the first significant oil spill in the nation’s history, nor even the first in the Gulf. The oil companies and government agencies with a stake in guarding against and cleaning up the spills that inevitably accompany oil drilling have had ample opportunity and motivation to devise and hone plans for protecting workers. And yet, thousands of cleanup workers began their work in the Gulf without the training and guidance necessary to ensure their safety in the face of hazardous conditions.

…OSHA and NIOSH eventually settled on policies for training workers and requiring appropriate safety gear. Their response undoubtedly helped limit the risks the workers faced. But the time it took to settle these policies put into sharp focus a significant problem in our nation’s emergency response policies: OSHA and NIOSH had only limited roles in the planning process and in the development of implementing regulations, a failing that badly slowed the government’s response on the worker-safety front. From this “original sin” flowed a number of negative consequences, some of which compromised the health and safety of cleanup workers.

The report also said that the National and Regional Contingency Plans shortchanged the role of worker protection agencies in planning for an oil spill response, leaving no mechanism for enforcing workplace safety.

BP’s Oil Spill Disaster Study is Criticized

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

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It is not surprising that BP’s credibility regarding its own analysis of the causes of the disastrous oil spill has been criticized.  Soon the independent panel, created by President Obama, should be issuing their report, which hopefully will be more highly regarded. Credibility of BP Oil Spill Study is Challenged, Wash. Post, Sept. 12.

The BP report spreads much of the responsibility  for the catastrophic blowout to other companies involved in the well operation, and it concludes that some of BP’s most widely criticized decisions in the construction of the well probably did not contribute to the disaster.

Other companies involved in the operation have challenged the report’s credibility, saying it is flawed and self-serving.