around the bar
March 3, 2011

It’s Safe to Resume Drilling in the Gulf, Allen Tells National Security Lawyers

_ News Service

By Alexandra Buller

Thad Allen

Thad Allen

WASHINGTON — A day after the first deepwater drilling permit since the BP oil spill was granted, Admiral Thad Allen told the Sixth Annual Homeland Security Law Institute that resuming drilling makes sense but still poses dangers.

“We can drill safely, but it won’t be risk-free,” he said Tuesday at the event sponsored by the _’s Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. “There is always going to be a trade-off,” he continued, adding that risk comes along with our country’s dependency on oil and fossil fuels.

Allen, who served as national incident commander of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said that by applying lessons learned from the spill last year the government is now better prepared to handle a similar incident.

“We’ve done our due diligence and we have the ability to control and contain wells so [oil] doesn’t contaminate the water supply.” But, he also said, “We need to continue to improve.”

While recounting the events following the spill, Allen said, “All bets were off for how we would normally conduct a response because of the complexity and magnitude of the spill.”

With the spill affecting the coastline from Florida to Louisiana and lasting for 85 days, Allen suggested that the value of a spill significance drill conducted in April 2002 was “nil because in actuality no plan survives [in a disaster].”

Allen also said his greatest frustration with the response rests in what he calls the “political nullification of a contingency plan,” because local politicians, particularly in Louisiana, objected to a federal response and had difficulty finding a unified voice within the state.

He elaborated on this with what he calls “Allen’s response theorem” that “the public and political tolerance for a responsible party in this country is inversely proportional to the size of the spill.”

Allen recommends a long-term national contingency plan for this type of potential disaster.  To improve coordination, “a response needs to include the lowest level of government in the planning and they [the lowest levels] need to know what they agreed to prior to the disaster,” he said.

Allen was an executive staff member to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He is currently a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.