“The Minerals Management Service has been ridiculed as a pawn of the oil industry it was meant to oversee, and the Gulf Coast office has drawn particular scorn.
The causes of the spill remain unclear, but a number of the agency’s actions have drawn fire: it shortened safety and environmental reviews; overlooked flaws in the spill response plan; and ignored warnings that crucial pieces of emergency equipment, blowout preventers, were prone to fail.
The clash between the agency’s environmentalists and engineers dominated a project meant to guide the agency into the deep-water age, a two-year study of new risks called an environmental assessment. Published in 2000, it framed the agency’s approach for the next decade. It reads like a document at war with itself.
It counted 151 well blowouts in the previous 25 years, about one every two months. It said a quarter had led to spills. It questioned the effectiveness of chemical dispersants and cited the difficulties of drilling relief wells. In noting that a deep-water blowout could take up to four months to control, it all but forecast the BP disaster: “Of particular concern is the ability to stop a blowout once it has begun.”
Then it quickly silenced its own alarm bells…”