WSJ: Spill Panel Co-Chair Says Offshore Regulatory System ‘Not One We Can Rely On’

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The co-chairman of the presidential panel that investigated last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Thursday the “regulatory apparatus” that oversees offshore drilling “is not one we can rely on.”

William Reilly, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said he is concerned federal offshore oil rig inspectors and regulators are “under trained and over worked,” and “that will change slowly or not at all.”

Mr. Reilly, speaking at the Wall Street Journal ECO:Nomics conference here, noted he had not supported the Obama administration’s moratorium on new deepwater drilling.

“They stretched it out too long,” he said.

The Interior Department’s decision to delay issuing new permits until earlier this week suggests “the Secretary of Interior may not have confidence in his agency.”

The presidential spill commission’s report faulted well owner BP PLC (BP), its major contractors and regulators for their roles in the disaster, and concluded that the spill reflected systemic problems in the offshore oil industry.

Mr. Reilly said he believed the oil industry got a “wake up call” from the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout, which resulted in the nation’s largest offshore oil spill.

“There is a large self interest [within the industry] to get a hold of this problem,” Mr. Reilly said.

Mr. Reilly said he is working with Mexican regulators on an agreement for a set of offshore drilling safety standards for both countries, and that he hoped the Mexicans would float the idea with officials in Cuba, which has plans to open up its coast to offshore drilling. He noted that this effort could lead to a global agreement on offshore drilling safety practices.

(c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.