The Wall Street Journal reports that the well lacked a remote-control shut-off switch that is required by Brazil and Norway, two other major oil-producing nations. The switch, a back-up measure to shut off oil flow, would allow a crew to remotely shut off the well even if a rig was damaged or sunken. BP said it couldn't explain why its primary shut-off measures did not work.
U.S. regulators considered requiring the mechanism several years ago. They decided against the measure when drilling companies protested, saying the cost was too high, the device was only questionably effective, and that primary shut-off measures were enough to control an oil spill. A 2001 industry report argued against the shut-off device:
"Significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency back-up control system during an actual well flowing incident."
However, a spokeswoman for Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority said the switches have "been seen as the most successful and effective option" in North Sea usage. Several oil producers, including Royal Dutch Shell, sometimes use the switch even when it is not required by country regulations.
Experts have said that the remote-control switch may have been able to shut off the Deepwater Horizon well, and critics of have said the lack of the remote control is a sign U.S. authorities have been too lax with the industry. A spokesman for Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson argued:
"What we see, going back two decades, is an oil industry that has had way too much sway with federal regulations. We are seeing our worst nightmare coming true."Finally, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that BP argued against stricter safety regulations for the oil industry in letters to the Minerals Management Service last year. BP joined with several other oil producers to say that current voluntary safety rules are sufficient.