Spill Commission director says systemic problems caused Gulf blowout

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Richard J. Lazarus, former executive director of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission, outlined the challenges and opportunities of investigating the Gulf blowout during a presentation at the UH Law Center.

Richard J. Lazarus, former executive director of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission, outlined the challenges and opportunities of investigating the Gulf blowout during a presentation at the UH Law Center.

Nov. 17, 2011 – Richard J. Lazarus, former executive director of the commission charged with investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, told University of Houston Law Center students yesterday that the disaster was a result of “systemic problems throughout both the oil and gas industry and the government.”

The April 20, 2010 blowout killed 11 workers and spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before BP was able to cap it in mid-July 2010.

As part of the presentation titled “Investigating the Gulf Oil Spill at the Request of the President: Challenges & Opportunities,” Lazarus, a professor at Harvard Law School, outlined the formation of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission as well as its findings. The UH Law Center’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Center sponsored the lecture.

“The spill was a major catastrophe,” Lazarus said. “The shores of our nation were being assaulted by oil. The nation wanted to see action. It was our job to find out what went wrong and how to correct it. We had many unique challenges to deal with.”

Among the obstacles, Lazarus noted, was the six-month deadline imposed on the commission as well as the fact the crisis was on-going.

“The nation was politically charged,” Lazarus said. “People needed to see us act quickly. I assembled a team of experts that the oil and gas industry could respect. We were on a murderous schedule to complete the report.”

In the final report to the president, the commission concluded that off-shore drilling can be done safely. Furthermore, the commission addressed several mistakes which contributed to the tragedy, including a lack of planning, a failure to do risk management, and ignoring negative test pressure tests.

“In the end, we managed to put together a gripping narrative of what happened and why,” Lazarus said.

To view Lazarus’ full presentation, click here.

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