Gulf drilling got free pass. Now they tell us.


A Times story this morning reports that, according to both documents and scientists in the US Minerals Management Service (MMS), the MMS routinely silenced safety and environmental warnings from staff in order to grant permits for even huge, high-risk drilling permits, including the BP rig that blew.

It’s a good (and nauseating) story, and I’m tempted to say it’s timely. Yet this story would have been a lot more timely before the rig blew, no? As I read it, I wondered why I had not read it weeks ago, when the Obama administration started proposing an expansion of drilling off US coasts. That proposal implicitly assumes thatregulators and drillers were doing reasonably good jobs at ensuring drilling was safe and well-regulated. Today’s report shows otherwise — and that the story has been waiting to be found for months.

I’m not necessarily blaming the Times; no one else did this story earlier either. And it took too parties to make this story happen — a paper, and some sources. It needed a newspaper that wanted to do it and scientists in the know who could spill the beans. I’d love to know which of those conditions were missing before the rig blew. Had this story run before the rig blew, it probably would not have shut the BP rig down.  But it would have changed the conversation about expansion of drilling and made the political blowback even bigger.

So who didn’t show up for this dance when the music first started playing weeks ago? Was the press trying to do the story but failing to reach staff scientists and convince them to supply the neededinformation and documents? Were there scientists trying to draw attention to the story and failing to get the press’s attention? Or had neither press nor scientists heard the music?

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