THE BLOG
08/22/2011 06:41 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2011

The "Friday Syndrome" and Gulf Oil Drilling

In Washington, DC, there's a phenomenon I call "The Friday Syndrome," and I'm not talking about throngs of people headed to Happy Hour. It's that all too familiar feeling, when you're wrapping up your work for the week, and whammo! An important policy announcement is made by one of the government agencies. Just when you thought you might be home in time for dinner.

This time it was the agency that regulates offshore drilling, known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE, sometimes pronounced "bummer").

And it is a bummer when the government makes an important announcement on a Friday afternoon, not just because it postpones Happy Hour, but because people are already headed out for the weekend, and important actions could go unnoticed.

So let me catch you up, because we all have a right to know that after the worst accidental oil spill in world history, BOEMRE is ready to start auctioning off our resources again, even though many of the problems that led to the Gulf disaster have not been remedied.

You might think that before they went back to selling leases they would assess the possible environmental impacts of another spill in the Gulf. To do that they would have to wait for ongoing studies of the last spill to finish -- which they didn't. So the government's effort to decide whether to offer new leases ignores possible impacts of the largest oil spill ever to hit U.S. waters. How sound is that science?

And before they auction off any more rights to drill in our Gulf, wouldn't we want them to make sure the companies have a plan for how to prevent and respond to the next spill? Did BOEMRE do that? Only if you trust that one year after we watched in suspense for 87 days, as BP tried week after week to stop the fountain of oil gushing into the ocean, somehow, if it happened today the companies could stop such a problem much more quickly. Unfortunately, that pipe dream is probably not reality.

BOEMRE is relying on an extremely out-of-date spill risk analysis from the year 2000, which was written long before the Deepwater Horizon accident, and before deepwater drilling became as common as it is today. BOEMRE also failed to account for the increased risk of blowouts and spills that are likely when drilling in "frontier areas," like the deepwater sites that would be included in the lease sale. And the Bureau seems satisfied with promised response plans that have never been demonstrated to work in a reasonable timeframe.

This all adds up to a return to business-as-usual when it comes to offshore drilling, and that means an unacceptable risk of another monster spill. This may explain why the Friday Syndrome resurfaced last week.

In case you were lucky enough to have already left for the weekend, take note: the Obama administration will sell more leases for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in spite of the risk of another major spill. The fact that they released the news when everyone was at Happy Hour suggests that even BOEMRE staff might have been embarrassed about what they were doing.