According to this account by the Associated Press, which obtained excerpts of the commission report slated for release next week, MMS officials took all of ninety minutes to approve BP's plan to set an "unusually deep" cement plug in the well. The rapid turnaround is one more startling illustration of a chain of dubious decisions made by the agency in its supervision of offshore drilling operations, including its routine award of "exclusions" that allowed companies to drill without detailed environmental analyses.
Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dissolved the scandal-plagued MMS earlier this year and divided its functions among three new agencies, hoping to alter a regulatory "culture" that had proven to be too cozy with the companies it regulated.
But the commission seems inclined to shovel blame rather generously among BP, Halliburton and other contractors, and the government. "The blowout was not the product of a series of abberational decisions made by a rogue industry or government officials... the root causes are systemic, and absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, it might well recur."
DOI officials insist the changes the report is calling for are already underway. But as pressure increases to resume offshore drilling with a vengeance, no one can blame Salazar and company for taking a few extra minutes -- maybe more than ninety -- to ponder the implications of the investigation and figure out how to stave off another preventable disaster in the Gulf.