MMS Understated Scale and Impact of Oil Spills in Five-Year Plan

For Immediate Release


Keith Rutter
Phone: 202-347-1122

MMS Understated Scale and Impact of Oil Spills in Five-Year Plan

WASHINGTON - More evidence casting doubt on whether the U.S. Minerals Management
Service (MMS) has been overseeing offshore drilling with the best
interest of taxpayers in mind.

In a 2009 response to MMS' proposed five-year plan for
oil and gas leasing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) determined MMS understated the scale of oil spills:

The [Draft Proposed Program] DPP highlights the safety of the
offshore oil production industry by using information on frequency of
spills from the US Coast Guard Marine Casualty Pollution Investigations,
"Oil Spill Compendium 1972-2004." This time frame fails to
include more recent information from many sources
Unfortunately, data from the USCG, MMS, and Congressional Research
Service (CRS) show a substantial increase in spill volume in 2005,
primarily due to spills associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Some of the damaged rigs and pipelines damaged during the 2004 and 2005
hurricane seasons continue to have episodic releases, and repairs have
not been fully completed...These incidents call into question
the DPP statement
that: "It has been many years since any
substantial environmental impacts have been observed as a result of an
oil spill cause by the OCS production and transportation activities."
(Emphasis courtesy of POGO.)

Furthermore, NOAA said MMS understated the environmental impact of

The DPP's analysis of the risk and impacts of accidental spills and
chronic impacts are understated and generally not supported or
referenced, using vague terms and phrases
such as "no
substantive degradation is expected" and "some marine mammals could be
harmed." …Several  statements on oil impacts seem to directly
conflict with studies of major spills
, notably the assertion
that "[t]he impacts (to rocky shorelines) are expected to be localized,
and recovery to pre-exposure conditions would occur within several
years." And "[n[o substantive reduction in finfish or shellfish
populations should result from either routine offshore activities or
accidental oil spills" (emphasis POGO's).

NOAA also remarked in its public comment that MMS did not fully
evaluate climate change, human dimensions, or spill modeling, and that
MMS ultimately needed to strengthen its calculations for the net value
of its proposed plan.

Marian Wang of ProPublica raises another important point about the
MMS's ability to hold oil and gas companies accountable. The fines that
the agency issues for safety violations are so small compared to oil
company profits that they are, effectively, "equivalent to a rounding error."


The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open and honest federal government.

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