"Inept" moves preceded BP spill: U.S. panel co-chair

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - BP and its contractors made a series of decisions that were “breathtakingly inept” ahead of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a co-chair of the White House oil spill commission said on Wednesday.

Natural gas is burned off a support vessel above the source of Deepwater Horizon oil spill where BP will begin testing a new cap placed over the leak in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast July 13, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Celano

Bill Reilly, who co-chairs the presidential commission set up after the BP spill, blasted the conduct of the oil giant and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, in drilling the doomed Macondo well, .

“There is virtual consensus among all the sophisticated observers of this debacle that three of the leading players in the industry made a series of missteps, miscalculations and miscommunications that were breathtakingly inept and largely preventable,” Reilly said in a prepared remarks for an oil and gas conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Reilly stressed he was not speaking in his capacity as commission co-chair. Still, the remarks could hint at the tone of the panel’s final report to be released in January.

The seven-member panel is charged with uncovering the root causes of the devastating explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, as well as guide the future of offshore drilling.

In his speech, Reilly reiterated his call for a self-regulating oil industry group that would help hold companies accountable.

“There is also no question...that certain companies were well known within the industry to be laggards when it came to a safety culture,” Reilly said. “Yet the industry stood by and let disaster happen.”

A so called safety institute would be able to require the highest safety standards across the industry and to assess companies’ safety culture in practice, Reilly said.

Reilly warned that another drilling accident, even a minor one, could have dire consequences for the entire oil and gas sector.

“If this should happen again...the public and governmental response will be disproportionately severe,” Reilly said. “Because the American people are not going to forget the Deepwater Horizon.”

Editing by David Gregorio