NEW ORLEANS — A rule change two years ago by the federal agency that regulates offshore oil rigs allowed BP to avoid filing a plan specifically for handling a major spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project — exactly the kind of disaster now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil rig operators generally are required to submit a detailed "blowout scenario." But the federal Minerals Management Service issued a notice in 2008 that exempted some drilling projects in the gulf under certain conditions.
BP met those conditions, according to MMS, and as a result, the oil company had no plan written specifically for the Deepwater Horizon project.
BP spokesman William Salvin insisted the company was nevertheless prepared to handle a blowout at that project because it had a detailed, 582-page regional plan for dealing with a catastrophic spill anywhere in the central gulf.
"We have a plan that has sufficient detail in it to deal with a blowout," Salvin said.
Still, the lack of a specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon project raises questions about whether the company could have been better prepared to deal with the leak, which is still spewing about 210,000 gallons a day.
MMS, which is part of the Interior Department, has long been criticized as too cozy with the industry it regulates.
Blowout scenario rules in the Code of Federal Regulations require rig operators to estimate how much oil could escape and an explanation of how a spill would be stopped and how long it would take.