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By Steve Hedges

WASHINGTON — Amid the chatter about the BP oil spill, lost jobs, billion-dollar escrow funds and political fallout, The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith notes in a story today something that people in the nuclear industry have been talking about ever since the first hint of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and underwater gushers:
Why doesn’t the oil business have something like the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations – the industry oversight arm that was established after the 1979 Three Mile Island incident?

It’s a good question, especially given the long-lasting effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Government regulations on tankers and oil operations were revamped after Valdez. But the oil industry itself, as the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, hasn’t done enough to police its own work, especially when it comes to the deep-water technology involved in offshore drilling.
The lackadaisical testing of the blow-out preventers that are designed to stop deep sea gushers is just the start. Until now, most environmentalists might have guessed that the petroleum industry had better internal oversight than America’s nuclear power grid.
They’d be wrong.

As the Journal story notes:

“William K. Reilly, a Republican and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the first President Bush, said an organization modeled on ‘Inpo’—the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations—wouldn't be a substitute for stronger federal oversight but could "create the safety culture that's needed" in offshore drilling.
“Atlanta-based Inpo was created in 1979 following the nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. Today its inspection teams conduct regular evaluations of nuclear plants and assess training programs. It is credited with improving plant safety and performance. A nonprofit corporation, it is funded by $100 million a year in industry fees.”

The key elements of INPO are that it is industry driven, funded and managed. That, and the fact that it works, as the Journal story notes. People have lost their jobs after poor INPO inspections.

The nuclear industry realized quickly after Three Mile Island that the high stakes of an accident or even a minor incident: the risk of unnecessary and even permanent shutdown, increased and highly-politicized government scrutiny, higher operating and recovery costs and long-lasting damage to community trust.
BP is living that nightmare scenario right now. But the oil industry appears content to have let BP flop around the oily deck of its own disaster. While environmentalist and oil industry opponents are talking about stronger offshore drilling regulations or even halting offshore work for good, few in the business are suggesting something like INPO, an “in-house,” self-regulatory process will make things safer for all oil producers.

As in other industries where safety, technology and regulation meet – Aviation comes quickly to mind – reasonable, industry-wide precautions taken by solid operators can prevent disasters like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.

Read more at the WSJ:

Bromwich named to head oil regulator

Obama: BP will pay for the damage it has done

Obama's political oil fund

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