20100920 oil rig 35
The damaged blow out preventer along with the Lower Marine Riser Package cap from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that caused the massive oil spill is extracted and put aboard the vessel Q4000 in the Gulf of Mexico. - 


Kai Ryssdal: Nine months and we still don't know exactly how many millions of barrels of oil later, the White House commission on the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico issued its report today. The gist of it you can probably guess. We need new rules for how to drill our way out where the water's so deep. We need to raise oil company liability limits. And we need to figure out new safety standards.

In fact, the panel recommends no new permits for drilling up in the Arctic until safety technology matches drilling ability. The drilling industry's not so happy about that, as you might imagine, but companies that develop new oil technologies think it's just fine.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: BP's Macondo well was the cutting edge of engineering at the bottom of the sea. But when the well blew out, the technology to address it was decades old. Terrence O'Hanlon studies industrial risk at ReliabilityWeb. He says oil companies knew about that gap, but didn't invest in closing it.

Terrence O'Hanlon: It would be like going into an operation, and your surgeon understanding all the ways the surgery could go south, so to speak, yet not having the capability to respond to it.

He says most of the prevention and response technology is on the market. But a government cap on corporate liability removes the incentive to pay for it.

O'Hanlon: Let's see, we could spend $200 million on an underwater vehicle that might be able to respond to this, or we could pay the $75 million fine.

The commission recommends lifting the limit on that fine. O'Hanlon says that would get companies to pay to perfect safety technology.

But they also need to fund scientific research, says Mike LeVine. He works in Alaska with the nonprofit Oceana. LeVine says companies don't yet know how to respond to disasters there. For example, whether one kind of oil dispersant works better under ice than another.

Mike LeVine: So if there was a way to fund the necessary science and research, it might go a long way to furthering decisions about whether we can undertake these activities sustainably.

But of course someone would have to underwrite that new research. Congress will have to decide whether it's worth government investment, or a tax on the oil industry to do so.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

Follow Eve Troeh at @evetroeh