June 16, 2010 | Mark Paradies

President Names “Independent” Blue Ribbon Commission to Investigate Gulf Oil Spill – Are They Qualified?

Here are the names released by the White House:


Bob Graham

William K. Reilly

Other Commission Members

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council;

Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science;

Terry Garcia, a Vice President of the National Geographic Society;

Cherry Murray, Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences;

Frances Ulmer, Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Under their charter from the President, the panel has six months to find out what led to the blowout of the Macondo Prospect (Deepwater Horizon) well and to make recommendations for future drilling practices.

Since the mission of this body is so important to the energy future of the US, I thought I’d dig deeper into the commission members’ backgrounds. I’ve written a short summary for each of the members of what I found online…

– – –

Bob Graham is a Democrat and former Florida Governor and Senator. He has a BA from the University of Florida and a Law Degree from Harvard. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the New Democrat Network,

As a Senator, Governor, and Presidential candidate, Bob Graham opposed offshore drilling. However, after he was appointed to the commission, he is quoted as saying:

I don’t think my designation sends any signal. We should be in a position to have good information about the situation and, based on that, come to a solid judgment and conclusion.

William K. Reilly was the head of the EPA during the Exxon Valdez spill cleanup. He has a BA in History and a Law Degree from Harvard, and a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning. Before becoming the head of the EPA, William Reilly’s main jobs were with environmental groups, including The National Urban Coalition, The Conservation Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund. He was also the lawyer for the President’s Council on Environmental Policy, where he drafted environmental legislation. Now William Reilly is a board member at several large companies, including Du Pont, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Caribbean Cruises. He is also an advisor to TPG Capital, an international investment firm where he was involved in the purchase of Texas Utilities (TXU) by TPG and KKR. He negotiated with TXU to reduce their plans for coal-fired power plants from 11 to 3. He now serves on the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board for the company.

In a June 16 article in the Wall Street Journal, William Reilly is quoted as saying that the oil industry needs an organization like INPO (the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations) to help the industry improve operations the way the nuclear industry did after Three Mile Island.

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a Master’s Degree in Forestry and Environmental Studies from Yale. The NRDC website says the following about Frances Beinecke:

Under Frances’s leadership, the organization sharply focuses on curbing global warming, developing a clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, saving endangered wild places, stemming the tide of toxic chemicals and accelerating the greening of China. With Bob Deans, Frances recently co-authored the book Clean Energy Common Sense: An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change, which shows how we can secure a clean and sustainable energy future that will help put Americans back to work, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and create a healthier future for ourselves and our children.

Also, back in May (after the spill started), she wrote an editorial that said:

The best protection we have against offshore accidents is to end our dependence on oil. We simply don’t have to jeopardize our oceans, fishing industry, tourism business, and rich coastal ecosystems in order to fuel our cars and trucks. We can pass clean energy and climate legislation – legislation that will slash our oil reliance by spurring innovation in cleaner solutions – things like more efficient cars and plug-in hybrids.

She went on to suggest a three-point plan:

1. Impose a moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling activities.
2. Ensure rules for future drilling reflect the lessons of Deepwater Horizon.
3. Initiate an independent investigation.

She was also quoted by the New York Times as saying that the independent commission should determine:

…whether, when, where and under what circumstances new offshore drilling operations should be allowed.

Donald Boesch is President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He has a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the College of William and Mary. He has a long career as an academic. The University of Maryland website says:

Dr. Boesch is a biological oceanographer who has conducted research in coastal and continental shelf environments along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, eastern Australia and the East China Sea. He has published two books and more than 85 papers on marine benthos, estuaries, wetlands, continental shelves, oil pollution, nutrient over-enrichment, environmental assessment and monitoring and science policy. Presently his research focuses on the use of science in ecosystem management.

Terry Garcia is Vice President of Mission Programs at the National Geographic Society. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and a Law Degree from The George Washington University.

Before becoming a VP at National Geographic, Garcia was an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, the Deputy Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), General Council for NOAA (where he oversaw the implementation of the oil spill recovery efforts under the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Plan for the Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska), and a partner in the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles.

The National Geographic website says:

Executive Vice President, Mission Programs, National Geographic Society
Terry D. Garcia is responsible for the Society’s core mission programs: the Committee for Research and Exploration, the Geographic Education Outreach program, the Education Foundation, and the Society’s Development Office, Explorers Hall museum, and lecture program.”

Cherry Murray
is the Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She has a BS, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Physics from MIT.

Before becoming a Dean at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, she was the Principal Associate Director for Science and Technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She also worked at Bell Labs.

This is how the Harvard website describes her research:

A celebrated experimentalist, Murray is well-known for her scientific accomplishments using light scattering, an experimental technique where photons are fired at a target of interest. Scientists can then gather insights into surface physics and photonic behavior by analyzing the spray of photons in various directions from such collisions.

She is also a leader in the study of soft condensed matter and complex fluids, hybrid materials that show properties of different phases of matter. The control of suspensions, foams, and emulsions has application for the development of everything from novel drug delivery systems to “lab-on-a-chip” devices.

Among other diverse topics in condensed matter physics, Murray has studied semiconductors’ optical phenomena, nanostructures, phase transitions, and controlled self-assembly of optical materials — all critical for the advancement of quantum optics, engineered semiconductors, and tools such as optical tweezers.

Frances Ulmer
is Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. She has a BA in Political Science and a Law Degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Before becoming the Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Frances was a Democrat elected to a variety of offices in the state of Alaska as well as appointed governmental positions that include: Director of Policy Development for the State of Alaska (managing diverse programs, including coastal management, intergovernmental coordination, and public participation initiatives); serving as a member of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission; the Federal Communications Commission’s State and Local Advisory Committee; and the Federal Elections Commissions Committee. She also has held academic positions, including being a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Currently, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Parks Conservation Association, the Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Alaska Nature Conservancy Board.

– – –

That’s it.

What did I notice?

Not an engineer among them.

No petroleum engineers. No geologists.

No one with any real oil drilling experience (unless you count being on the Board of Directors of ConocoPhillips as oil drilling experience).

Has any of the commission members even slept on an offshore rig overnight?

Also, no one with any experience investigating accidents (at least no experience that I can find in their publicly available bios).

Also, no one with any “high-reliability” organization experience.

What do they have?

  • Lots of law degrees.
  • Time at Harvard or Yale
  • Lots of “government” experience
  • Environmentalist backgrounds

To me, it seems they are most qualified to investigate the problems with the spill response.

But they don’t seem qualified to investigate why a well blowout occurred.

I’m not trying to imply that any of the commission members aren’t highly qualified for their current jobs or aren’t wonderful people. They just aren’t the folks I would see if I wanted to find out why BP drilled a bad oil well that killed 11 people and started an environmental disaster.

What do you think? Is this Bipartisan, Independent, Blue Ribbon, Presidential Commission qualified to do its job?

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