This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
If BP appears to be devising its response to the Gulf of Mexico spill on the fly, there’s good reason: The oil giant never had a real plan to deal with a catastrophe at the site.
The company went through the motions, submitting 634 pages supposedly detailing how it was prepared to handle the worst. But the plans themselves are riddled with errors and omissions.
An analysis by the Associated Press found that they vastly understated the dangers of an uncontrolled leak and overstated the company’s ability to deal with one. Some of the most glaring mistakes:
• BP claimed it could marshal the requisite equipment and resources to remove 20 million gallons of oil from the water each day. It has taken six weeks for the company to mop up even a fraction of that amount.
• BP describes a fantasy world in which a leak 10 times the size of the ongoing disaster would pose little threat to wildlife or beaches.
“Due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented no significant adverse impacts are expected.”
• The plan’s list of sensitive biological resources includes marine mammals – walruses! – that don’t live anywhere near the Gulf.
• Among the experts BP planned to tap in the event of a spill was an eminent sea turtle expert who had died four years previously.
Some of the mistakes were just plain sloppy: the wrong website was listed for one of two firms that provide BP equipment to clean up a spill. Also wrong were phone numbers for several wildlife rescue resources.
Taken together, the flaws reveal a company that was going through the motions, with little concern that the government would call it out. After all, regulators had a vested interest in speeding oil leases through the process. They got cash bonuses for meeting deadlines, and the government got royalties from the oil.
BP’s spill response plans were approved by the feds last year before BP drilled the well that is now fouling the Gulf.
Some help those plans have proved to be. They certainly haven’t provided the answer to stop the gusher.
Worse yet, they may have encouraged BP to repeatedly downplay the spill by officially endorsing the company’s cocky and slapdash assessment of the worst case scenario.