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Commentary: Toughen up on Big Oil

Two back-to-back headlines this week about the presidential commission investigating the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sent conflicting messages. The seven-member panel, co-chaired by former Florida senator Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William Reilly, is probing the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 crew members and spewed millions of gallons of crude from the blown-out well into the Gulf.

The first headline, Panel: BP didn't favor $ over safety on Nov. 9, topped a story in which the panel's chief investigator said that, among preliminary findings, there is no evidence that ``a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs and opted to give up safety for costs.'' This challenges the common view that BP and the other firms involved, Transocean and Halliburton, cut corners to save money, which led to the explosion.

The article beneath the Nov. 10 headline, Panel chairmen spread blame among firms, has Messrs. Graham and Reilly saying that the panel found a ``culture of complacency'' rather than a ``culture of safety.''

They said all three companies were to blame. As for the chief investigator's statement, Mr. Reilly said that the group ``didn't rule out cost, they just weren't prepared to attribute mercenary motives to men who cannot speak for themselves because they are not alive.'' Nevertheless, he continued, ``there was one bad call after another.''

Mr. Reilly also called for ``top-to-bottom'' reform of the companies' drilling operations. So, plenty of mistakes led to the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. And these are just the panel's preliminary findings. Its full report is due in January.

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