BEIJING, April 18 (Xinhuanet) -- It's been almost a year since BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill began, triggering one of the world's worst environmental disasters. Nearly 5 million barrels of oil leaked from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well during the months-long catastrophe.
Since then, major safety improvements have been made and new regulations adopted. But can these measures prevent history from repeating itself? CCTV correspondent Jeff Napshin reports from Washington.
It was an epic tragedy the U-S government hopes to keep from happening again. That's why these international experts have gathered in Washington to find ways to reduce the risks of offshore drilling. But have we learned enough since the accident?
William reilly, Co-Chair of Oil Spill Commission, said, "Certainly there have been encouraging signs on the part of government and there's new regulations and a new degree to monitoring behavior of companies is much higher than it's ever been."
William Reilly says things are moving in the right direction. He co-chaired the Presidential Commission that looked into the cause of the B-P oil spill. That report found much of the industry at fault with a lack of planning to deal with a major subsea disaster.
He said, "The inspectors were overworked, undertrained, and their budgets underfinanced."
He says the industry is now much better prepared -- but warns it will still be difficult to stop another major oil spill in time to prevent serious environmental damage.
Jeff Napshin said, "Meanwhile, outside this conference -- there are sharp differences over the future of deepwater oil exploration -- which now accounts for 80% of all offshore production."
Athan Manuel, Lobbyist of Sierra Club, said, "I think if you talk to the fisherman and affected communities it's as bad as we thought. The devastation to family businesses and the coastal economies, tar balls washing up on the beach, and dead turtles and dolphins."
Athan Manuel works with the environmental group Sierra Club. He's concerned about the devastation wrought by the oil spill and worries about new efforts to expand drilling in the Gulf. But officials at the American Petroleum Institute or API say they've made significant improvements.
David Miller, Director of American Petroleum Institute, said, "Yes. I think it is safer. We've made additional requirements for the operators and these requirements all go to help improve industry safety."
David Miller says API has developed new industry standards that go beyond government requirements -- affecting the cementing process, casing size, and design and construction of wells. New federal regulations also require independent inspection and certification for each stage of the drilling process. And an engineer must certify the blowout preventer, which failed in last year's spill, meets tough new standards and can handle deepwater pressure.
API has also created the Center for Offshore Safety to help standardize a higher level of industry safety. That's why they believe the permitting process for new wells, which was frozen in place last Fall, should be sped up.
He said, "I think that the administration needs to work quicker on these applications and that industry has put a lot into each and every well."
But to get there they'll have to battle groups like the Sierra Club.
Mr. Manuel said, "I think that's the exact opposite of what should be done. We need to slow down the process so we know clean up and safety measures are in place and this industry has shown you have to go slow and with caution."
The Sierra Club also wants Congress to send a message -- dramatically increasing the liability cap for spills -- which is now just 75 million U.S. dollars. Despite all the potential dangers one thing can be assured -- our demand for oil will only grow and with it and there will be pressure to approve deeper wells in the Gulf of Mexico.