Commentary: Offshore oil drilling must have strong oversight

No wonder Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had some tough minutes with his former Senate colleagues.

In testimony before Congress this week, the secretary admitted that federal regulation of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was too weak to prevent the massive spill, that agencies had failed in their duties and that oversight of critical equipment was soft.

Here in Alaska, we keep hearing echoes of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. All those assurances of preparedness and ability turned out to be empty. We learned the hard way that prevention is worth more than all the cure you can muster.

Prevention systems can't be worth any more than the dedication and integrity of the people who work them, whether they're working for the oil industry, contractors, the federal government or citizens' advisory groups. What we're finding out so far about the Gulf spill is that permitting for the Deepwater Horizon skipped over statutory procedures -- like including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Regulators were lazy, relying on industry assurances. Crews working on the rigs may not have done their jobs properly -- or may not have been allowed to do so.

And the evidence mounts daily that neither BP nor the federal government was prepared for a blowout like this one.

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