BP, Regulation and Innovation: Using a Zero-Staging Approach

Just for a moment, let's step aside from all of the blame and finger-pointing.

There's a regulatory system to fix and, oddly enough, the oil spill in the Gulf provides the perfect opportunity to figure out how to balance the whole system to everyone's satisfaction.  Create new businesses, too.

Let's start with what we know.  In short:

  • Oil companies (because it's not just BP) are deep-water drilling in depths that exceed anything they've pursued before.
  • The companies have invested heavily in the technology to access the oil at those depths but not in the safety technology in case of accidents.
  • Regulatory agencies neither can nor will be able to keep up with (and in some cases to fully understand) the technology being used - nor its potential safety implications.
  • Legislators are reactive to disasters and, as a result, legislate looking backwards rather than forwards.
  • Scientists and academics worldwide are working on safety and response technologies - but without adequate funding and support.
I think the answer is to change the way that regulations are written.

When the public think about regulation, they equate it with enforcement.  That's correct, as far as it goes, but that's only part of what any government agency with regulatory requirements does with its time and manpower.  The rest looks a lot like never-ending paperwork review.

(Let's not get into how much paperwork is required when you're dealing with any government agency.  We all know that it's completely out of hand - but that's because they keep adding on.  It never quite occurs to them that some of the papers can and should just go away.  Now please excuse my mini-rant.)

When businesses deal with regulatory agencies, they're working the numbers.  They know that they are in compliance (because they are) and they know when they're not (because they're not).  They also know that the chances of them getting caught out are comparatively small.  In some cases, they also know that the fines they'll be charged are, from their perspective, worth the risk.

(Now, let's not get into a discussion of when that attitude creates danger to employees and even loss of life - because it does.  And that, at any time is not just unacceptable, it's reprehensible.)