Offshore drilling has increased rapidly over the last 25 years, but the number of inspectors charged with oversight hasn’t kept pace with the growth.
Since 1985, the number of inspectors at the Minerals Management Service has grown by only 13 percent, while the number of deep-water oil projects grew more than tenfold between 1998 and 2008 alone, the Washington Post reports. There are currently 62 safety inspectors for the Gulf Coast — only 7 more than 25 years ago.
As Congress looks for answers about the causes of the spill, investigators will consider whether the agency had enough manpower to adequately perform inspections.
Some lawmakers are also questioning whether inspectors who don’t go through standardized training are well-prepared for their jobs.
“It would seem that we’re spreading these inspectors pretty thin, given the increasing complexity of these rigs and the distances they have to travel,” Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told the Post.
And the agency itself seems to have been overwhelmed only a few months before the disaster, telling Congress that MMS was experiencing “significant engineering, logistical and financial challenges” because of the rapid expansion in deep-water drilling in the Gulf.