Web Video: Preventing Another Gulf Oil Spill, 5 Years Later

Apr. 14, 2015 AT 5:11 p.m. EDT

Five years after the explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the Obama administration is proposing new regulations for offshore oil rigs that would improve safety standards for blowout preventers to hopefully avoid similar catastrophic oil spills. The explosion on BP's rig in April 2010 killed 11 men and began the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Nearly 5 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico before the oil well was capped in July, 87 days after the explosion. The week after the spill, National Journal's Margaret Kriz Hobson explained the oil spill's impact on national energy policy on Washington Week.

Get Washington Week in your inbox


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY JANET NAPOLITANO: (From videotape.) This is a spill of national significance.

MS. IFILL: Hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil, threatening a huge natural disaster in the Gulf.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast, as well as the ecology of the region is at stake.

MS. IFILL: Wind power, nuclear, clean coal, offshore oil drilling -- do the risks outweigh the benefits?


MS. IFILL: Good evening. The news just keeps getting worse in the Gulf of Mexico, with 200,000 gallons of oil gushing each day from far beneath the sea. Last week's oil rig accident has suddenly changed the calculus for a national energy policy. A president who endorsed additional offshore oil drilling and who just this week backed a plan to build energy-producing windmills offshore as well, is now on the defensive.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was part of a phalanx of federal officials dispatched to the Gulf today.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR LISA JACKSON: (From videotape.) We will stay as long as we need to to make sure that we are ready and able to be partners in response to support all the local governments who are out there, who are trying to stand up to the people and get their communities ready for this response.

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA): (From videotape.) We think it's best to hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

MS. IFILL: At the same time, the great tripartisan Senate Energy Bill we talked about last week hit an unexpected pothole this week. How much is this oil spill changed policy and politics this week, Margie?

MS. HOBSON: Well, it was starting to go downhill even before this -- the oil spill got to be the big headlines. You had last weekend one of the main people who was writing that bill, the only Republican involved with it decided to withdraw because he was afraid that climate change was going to be overpowered by immigration law and all of the other --

MS. IFILL: Lindsey Graham.

MS. HOBSON: Lindsey Graham --

MS. IFILL: Right.

MS. HOBSON: Lindsey Graham -- and -- so he said, I'm out of here. Until you guys take immigration off the table, I'm going to withdraw. Well, that left two guys, Kerry -- Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman -- who were feeling like, well, if we don't have a Republican it's kind of hard to introduce anything, so --

MS. IFILL: And that was before the oil slick --

MS. HOBSON: Absolutely.

MS. IFILL: -- became so big that it completely turned everything upside down.

MS. HOBSON: Right. So at that point, everybody was saying, well, you could -- still might be able to get a climate bill going but then the oil came.

And President Obama specifically included oil drilling in his plan in this State of the Union address. It was in the bill itself and it was -- the whole purpose was to attract Republicans. But now, you have Democrats saying if there's oil spill -- if there's oil drilling in this bill -- if you were allowing more oil drilling in the bill, then I'm out of here. So you had all of these New Jersey Democrats and coastal state Democrats saying, we have to stop this right now.

MR. JAVERS: Why was it that nobody sort of saw this coming? I mean, this -- we heard about the spill, it seemed to be a minor thing and then suddenly, it exploded into a big national story and we hear about these massive amounts of ocean that are covered with oil. How did it go from so small to so huge?

MS. HOBSON: It is a deep well. It is -- when they called ocean, they mean it goes a mile down in the ocean. This is an area where there's -- the oil is so far down, it's way deep into the area that it's just -- it just doesn't -- nobody knows exactly what's happening down there. I mean, you had the whole thing collapsed. It was starting to come out of the ground, but nobody knew just how much was coming out of the ground. So it wasn't until it started to percolate up into the -- onto the ocean that you started to see it.

MS. TUMULTY: So is this Barack Obama's Katrina moment? How is this administration responding this, and you know, how competently are they responding to this?

MS. HOBSON: Well, I think they're doing a pretty good job at this point. They let BP handled it at first because BP said they could handle it. They said it's really not that bad. We have the booms and things like that to put around the oil spill.

MS. IFILL: So this -- wait a second. We allowed the company that's behind the problem police itself and we said okay for how long?

MS. HOBSON: For about a week. As long as we thought that it wasn't too bad. We sent the Coast Guard down, we had all kinds of people down there. But today you saw about half of his cabinet go down, make a big scene about it all.

And what the president is saying now is there's not going to be any new oil drilling offshore until they do an investigative -- investigation of the whole thing. However, he's not saying that it stops any new oil drilling off the coasts.

MR. BENDAVID: The administration aside, I mean, the whole "drill, baby, drill," that was one of the big slogans of a lot of the Republican candidates. And I'm wondering how those people are reacting to this kind of a disaster.

MS. HOBSON: Well, they've disappeared. (Laughs.) For the most part, you have a lot of Republicans who are simply not available anymore, or who are expressing concern about this. Mary Landrieu, who's the Democrat from Louisiana, is expressing a lot of concern, even though in the past she said this kind of a spill could not occur.

MS. IFILL: Well, but then we have, of course, Sarah Palin from Alaska who was Miss "Drill, Baby, Drill" and she came out today and said this isn't the kind of drilling she was talking about, but she's -- her state was also the one that suffered when the Exxon Valdez accident happened 20 -- more than 20 years ago. How does this compare to that?

MS. HOBSON: This is now being looked at as potentially as bad or worse than the Exxon Valdez. We won't know until they really start to calculate how much oil is coming out and how long it stays open without being capped. They don't know how to do that when you're talking about this deep ocean drilling.

MS. IFILL: One of the things that was different is that Exxon Valdez was a ship and this is something coming from underground and we don't know where it ends.


Support our journalism

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2024 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism


Contact: Kathy Connolly,

Vice President Major and Planned Giving

kconnolly@weta.org or 703-998-2064