Obama Could Have Prevented the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Ken Salazar’s first pledge as secretary of the interior was to reform the scandal plagued Mineral Management Service (MMS), which had been found by the U.S. inspector general to have traded sex, drugs, and financial favors with oil-company executives. In a January 29, 2009 press release on the scandal, Salazar stated:

“President Obama’s and my goal is to restore the public’s trust, to enact meaningful reform…to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us — career public servants and political appointees — do our jobs with the highest level of integrity.”

Yet just three months later, Secretary Salazar allowed the MMS to approve – with no environmental review – the BP drilling operation that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and pouring millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster will soon be, if it is not already, the worst oil spill in American history.

BP submitted its drilling plan to the MMS on March 10, 2009. Rather than subject the plan to a detailed environmental review before approving it as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency declared the plan to be “categorically excluded” from environmental analysis because it posed virtually no chance of harming the environment.

As BP itself pointed out in its April 9, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, categorical exclusions are only to be used when a project will have “minimal or nonexistent” environmental impacts.

But how could Obama have known that Ken Salazar is a gung-ho booster of offshore drilling, instead of a responsible guardian of the public interest?

Let’s blame it all on Salazar, and BP, and Halliburton, and… anybody but Obama!


In 2006, while Salazar was in the Colorado Senate, he fought to get increased oil and gas leases in the Gulf Coast region, by sponsoring the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006.

Now some people are calling the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe “Obama’s Katrina,” but that characterization is completely unfair… to George W. Bush.

Because nobody claims that Bush could have prevented Hurricane Katrina, like Obama could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon disaster, by enforcing existing environmental law.


  1. Excerpts from the BP drilling plan that was categorically excluded from

    environmental review by the Department of the Interior:

    “2.7 Blowout Scenario – A scenario for a potential blowout of the well from which BP would expect to have the highest volume of liquid hydrocarbons is not required for the operations proposed in this EP.”

    “14.5 Alternatives – No alternatives to the proposed activities were considered to reduce environmental impacts.”

    “14.7 Consultation – No agencies or persons were consulted regarding potential impacts associated with the proposed activities.”

    “14.3 Impacts on Proposed Activities – The site-specific environmental conditions have been taken into account for the proposed activities and no impacts are expected as a result of these conditions.”

    “ Wetlands – An accidental oil spill from the proposed activities could cause impacts to wetlands. However, due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.” (p. 45)

  2. So what does it means in everyday terms that Deepwater Horizon was exempted from existing environmental regulations by Obama and Salazar?

    Imagine this scene in court…

    “Wasn’t Barry supposed to check the brakes on that bus full of nuns, right before the brakes failed, and that bus full of nuns rolled off a cliff?”

    And Barry’s “lawyers” reply…

    “So what? It was probably just a coincidence that those brakes failed immediately after Barry didn’t bother to check them, and besides, the guy who formerly owned this brake-shop was even worse!”

  3. More from Amy Goodman on NPR…

    AMY GOODMAN: Reporters questioned White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday about why BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling operation was exempted from the detailed environmental impact analysis last year.

    REPORTER: …Why BP was exempted from the environmental impact analysis?

    SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: Yeah, well, I-the-there are a series of reviews that have to-that have to-you have to go through in order to get drilling permits. The process by which was referenced in that article is part of the review that Secretary Salazar is undergoing.

    REPORTER: Robert, does the White House believe it was a mistake, for this categorical exemption to be granted to BP for Deepwater Horizon?

    SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: That’s part of the investigation. I don’t know the answer to that.

    REPORTER: Ok, so that’s something that you’re looking into presently?

    SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: I would say as the President asked Secretary Salazar to undertake a thirty-day review of what happened, that that would certainly be part of the process under which he would evaluate.

    AMY GOODMAN: Kieran Suckling, that was Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary. Respond to his response.

    KIERAN SUCKLING: The White House and the Department of Interior are really sort of ducking their heads on this issue right now because it’s an enormous problem. Especially since just a few months ago the Government Accountability Office came out with the report on MMS’s operations in Alaska, where they also have offshore drilling, and specifically said the agency is not doing these environmental studies properly. They’re avoiding doing them at all. [NOTE: That’s under Obama’s administration and this occurred months before he changed the offshore drilling policy].

    Obama/Salazar didn’t check the brakes, and the bus rolled off a cliff.

    You can’t blame it on Bush.

    Salazar intervened personally to let Deepwater Horizon drill on the site of its disastrous spill, without an environmental review.

    “Did you check the brakes, Barry?”

    “Why bother?”

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