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gulf spill, offshore oil production, regulation, self-regulation, health and safety, environment, administrative law, North Sea, safety case, box ticking, National Commission on the BP Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling


This paper was presented at a symposium organized by Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review .


The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring and summer has triggered an intense search for more effective regulatory methods that would prevent such disasters. The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is under pressure to adopt the British “safety case” system, which requires the preparation of a facility-specific plan that is typically several hundred pages long. This system is supposed to inculcate a “safety culture” within companies that operate offshore in the British portion of the North Sea because it overcomes a “box-ticking” mentality and constitutes “bottom up” implementation of safety measures. Safety cases are strictly confidential: only company officials, regulators and, in limited circumstances, worker representatives, are allowed to see the entire plan. This Article argues that the safety case approach should not come to America because this confidentiality, as well as the levels of risk tolerated by the British system, conflict with the both the spirit and the letter of American law. American regulators also lack the resources necessary to make a safety case regime minimally successful.

Publication Citation

38 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 417 (2011)


Environmental Law