Offshore Drilling: Years of Lax Oversight, Small Fines for Serious Violations

Gov't agency collected just $21 mil in fines over 20 years from giant industry.

ByABC News
June 24, 2010, 12:50 PM

June 24, 2010— -- President Obama has all but guaranteed that a catastrophe like BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will never happen again, but months after the start of the disaster, government regulation of offshore drilling remains a shambles, and it maybe be impossible for the president to keep his pledge anytime in the near future.

New information reveals that oil drilling in the Gulf has been far more risky than previously thought for both the environment and rig workers, but the federal government's Mineral Management Service provided questionable oversight and punishments that amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist for giant oil companies.

Working on a rig is hazardous and sometimes deadly. From 2006 to 2009, 30 platform employees working in the Gulf of Mexico were killed in accidents and 1,300 people injured. Workers died in fires, fell through holes in platforms, and were crushed and killed by falling pipes.

"There was no watchdog in place," said Rep. Nick Rahall, (D-W. Va.), the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. "There is no reason whatsoever why any individual in this country should have to put their life on the line to earn a livelihood."

But an ABC News review of federal records shows that despite chronic safety problems, the Minerals Management Service, or MMS, imposed paltry fines that often took years to collect. In the overwhelming majority of cases where workers were actually killed, there was no record of fines being paid. Where fines did occur, the maximum penalty was only $25,000.

"It's totally ridiculous, insane that such circumstances were allowed to exist," said Rahall.

In a 20-year period, MMS has only fined the oil drilling industry $21 million for hundreds of serious safety violations -- about a million dollars in fines per year for an industry that made $800 billion in profits in that timeframe.