Review Finds Faults In Coast Guard’s Ability To Respond To Crisis

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April 11, 2011

Photo: An overflight of relief well operations by an Air Station New Orleans HH-65 Dolphin helicopter manned by a Coast Guard HITRON crew from Jacksonville, Fla., July 31, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

The U.S. Coast Guard found its response to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year was hampered by a lack of preparation and forethought, according to the agency’s own internal review.

The review said that the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to environmental catastrophes had “atrophied over the past decade,” possibly because the agency had focused on meeting new homeland security requirements, according to a report dated January 2011.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website,

The Coast Guard report, called an Incident Specific Preparedness Review, was prepared in the wake of the blowout aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The catastrophe killed 11 workers and left a gushing well at the bottom of the gulf that spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil between April and July.

The report said that the oil industry and government had allowed their “investment in planning and preparedness” for oil spills to decrease in the past decade and that both the agency and the industry were simply unprepared for an out-of-control oil well under 5,000 of water.

This conclusion broadly echoes many findings of other investigations into the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe last year: The Coast Guard and the industry weren’t ready for a deepwater spill of the magnitude experienced–and had let the technological ability to drill in deeper waters outpace the ability to prepare for and respond to an oil spill along this industry frontier.

Coast Guard Commandant R. J. Rapp Jr. accepted the report last month and promised to focus more attention on reviewing industry’s oil-spill plans, preparing for future incidents and studying the use of large amount of chemical dispersants that were used in hoping of minimizing the oil’s damage to the coastline. The existence of the 158-page document was first reported by the New York Times.

Dispersants were sprayed onto the oil as it flowed into the gulf, about 5,000 feet under water. The report didn’t fault the Coast Guard and oil industry for the use of chemical dispersants or for another unusual response, burning the oil on the surface of the gulf last year. But it did note there remained “concerns and questions” about their impact on the environment and said more research was required before either response to an oil spill became mainstream.

The review also said additional funding was required to allow the Coast Guard to foster research into dispersants as well as monitoring whether the oil industry is adequately prepared for a large oil spill. The Department of Homeland Security is seeking additional funding to beef up the Coast Guard’s spill response capabilities.

Efforts to reach spokespeople for the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security were unsuccessful.

(c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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