by Max Brantley
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators warned offshore rig operators more than a decade ago that they needed to install backup systems to control the giant undersea valves known as blowout preventers, used to cut off the flow of oil from a well in an emergency.
The warnings were repeated in 2004 and 2009. Yet the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency charged both with regulating the oil industry and with collecting royalties from it, never took steps to comprehensively address the issue, relying instead on industry assurances that they were on top of the problem, a review of documents shows.
There's a local angle. Even if the state of Arkansas had ever been inclined to be a rigorous enforcer of environmental protection rules, it has never had adequate resources to do it. Here and everywhere regulators depend on "voluntary compliance." Business has long assured us that good practices are good for business, that no business would wish environmental harm on anyone and that burdensome regulation and inspection only add unnecessary costs.