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Zellmer, Mintz & Glicksman in Journal of Energy & Environmental Law (Summer 2011) 2. Copyright 2011, George Washington University. Used by permission.


On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum's ("BP") Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, killing eleven workers. When the platform sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico two days later, oil erupted out of the riser-a 5000-foot pipe connecting the platform to the well on the ocean floor. Efforts to stem the flow failed when a safety device, the "blowout preventer," could not be activated. Finally, after a number of attempts to stop the leak, BP capped the well on July 15. Nearly five million barrels of oil were released over the course of eighty-six days, making the Deepwater Horizon the largest offshore oil spill in world history.

This Perspective Piece uncovers some of the regulatory failures that led to the disaster, focusing on the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ("NEPA"), and describing how the government's failure to take NEPA seriously reveals significant flaws in the oil and gas program as a whole. We analyze the deficiencies of the NEPA process and suggest areas for reform, including restricting the use of tiering and the availability of categorical exclusions, and requiring preparation of worst-case scenarios and more thorough consideration of indirect and cumulative effects of offshore oil and gas leasing.

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