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U.S. Secretary of the Interior—and former Colorado U.S. Senator—Ken Salazar appears to be taking a diplomatic stand in the not-yet-aftermath of the April 20 BP oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and continues to spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Speaking before Congress on Capitol Hill, Salazar recognized that offshore drilling has become so common that government agencies, industry, and even the general population may have developed relaxed attitudes over its regulation.
“In the gulf alone there have been over 36,000 wells that have been drilled, many in deep water, and there has never been an incident like this. So did the country as a whole, the United States Congress, the Department of the Interior, the oil and gas industry, and everybody else who has been affected by this decision become lax? I would say ‘yes,'” says Salazar, according to The Denver Post.
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While federal regulations were perhaps too light on offshore drilling, Salazar says it is premature to say government watchdogs underestimated risks when they approved such projects (via The Wall Street Journal). “The conclusion that this is an unregulated industry is not correct,” says Salazar, speaking to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday. “It is a very highly regulated industry. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.”
Senator Mark Udall, who listened to testimony at the hearing, concludes that offshore drilling regulations are not strong enough, according to KUNC radio. All the companies involved in the spill—BP, Halliburton, and Transocean—have failed to put contingency plans in place for an emergency such as the one unfolding in the gulf, Udall says. But even as the spill’s environmental impact has widened—the no-fishing zone has nearly doubled to include 19 percent of U.S. waters in the gulf—the Senate has halted Obama’s effort to increase corporate liability limits for those responsible for oil spills, according to Reuters. Obama blames Republicans for the impasse.