Spill changed little in the Gulf oil industry

A Gulf of Mexico oil rig
An oil rig sits in the Gulf of Mexico.
CBS News

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the explosion aboard BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering a leak that took nearly three months to stop.

One year later, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that in some ways, the oil business has changed, and in others, it has not.

After BP's disaster exploded into view, the nation saw that 11 lives were lost, and nearly five million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf. All of it was preventable. Critics vowed never again.

Almost a year later, ten new deepwater wells are underway. Some are already drilling other sites, with rigs on the way. The Gulf is back open for business.

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"To see activity again is just great," said Dwayne Rebstock, Allport Services' CEO.

Rebstock's Louisiana company services the oil industry's supply ships. He's happy to re-hire ten laid-off workers, but puzzled by what's really changed.

"I don't see any improvements that were made to any degree or level that justifies the ten months the industry was shut down," Rebstock said.

Even government regulators admit they have a long way to go, despite mandating new disaster plans from drilling operators. From requesting data on worse case spill rates, to updating response time to drill a relief well, in addition to overhauling standards for well design, casing and cementing, and safety.

"The deepwater horizon did come as a wake-up call to the industry. There had been complacency and over-confidence, " said Michael Bromwich with BOEMRE.

BP also displayed a good deal of incompetence. For 87 days, BP could not stop its own leak. Since the spill, industry groups created two new capping and containment systems, now for deepwater drillers in case of another major spill.

One such company is the Marine Well Containment Company. Its centerpiece is a 100 ton stacking cap, designed to collect 60,000 barrels of leaking oil a day.

"We have the equipment. We have the people. We have the pre-defined plan. We're ready to go," said Marty Massey, Marine Well Containment Company's CEO.

Getting this news system in place over a problem well is one of the unknowns. While company officials claim it will take just a few minutes, it is a system that has never been tried before on the sea floor. Every day of delay, a ruptured well could leak thousands of barrels.

Since BP's disaster, Congress has passed no new safety regulation for deepwater drilling.

"Until tough new safety standards are put on the books, then we are still gambling with the livelihoods and the life of the Gulf of Mexico," Said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.)

No coast was smeared more than Louisiana's, but the state relies on oil jobs. So its officials want more deepwater drilling as soon as possible.

At a Congressional hearing, Louisiana's Natural Resources Director Scott Angelle seemed not to have even read a presidential panel's new safety recommendations.

When asked whether safety recommendations from the president's BP oil spill commission should be implemented, Angelle said: "I'm not familiar with all the safety recommendations."

BP has refused any comment as this anniversary fuels debate about what has really changed in the Gulf.

  • strassmannbio2011.jpg
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.