The federal agency responsible for ensuring that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that inspections be done at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows.
Since January 2005, the federal Minerals Management Service conducted at least 16 fewer inspections aboard the Deepwater Horizon than it should have under the policy, a dramatic fall from the frequency of prior years, agency records show.
Under a revised statement given to the AP on Sunday, MMS officials said the last infraction aboard the rig occurred in August 2003, not March 2007 as originally stated.
The AP sought to find out how many times government safety inspectors visited the Deepwater Horizon, and what they found. In response, MMS officials offered a changing series of numbers.
At first, officials said 83 inspections had been performed since the rig arrived in the gulf 104 months ago, in September 2001. While being questioned about the once-per-month claim, the officials subsequently revised the total up to 88 inspections. The number of more recent inspections also changed — from 26 to 48 in the 64 months since January 2005.
No explanation was given initially for the upward revisions. On Sunday, the officials said additional inspections were discovered after MMS gathered more information from a deeper examination of its databases.
AP granted MMS officials anonymity because without that condition, communications staff at the Interior Department, which oversees MMS, would not have let them talk.
Based on the last set of numbers provided, the Deepwater Horizon was inspected 40 times during its first 40 months in the gulf — in line with agency policy. Even using the more favorable numbers for the most recent 64 months, 25 percent of monthly inspections were not performed. The first set of data supplied represented a 59 percent shortfall in the number of inspections.
Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff would not comment on the inspection numbers: "We are looking at all the questions that are coming out of the Deepwater Horizon incident."