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, an Associated Press review of government and industry documents found.
In a series of interviews, 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 oil leak, which is still spewing out of control at a rate estimated at more than 200,000 gallons a day.