"In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed the Outer Continental Shelf Deepwater Royalty Relief Act, which exempted oil wells drilled deep in the Gulf from the normal royalty payments to the government.
Usually, these payments amount to between 12 percent and 16 percent of their revenues, so the exemption did a great deal to catalyze drilling in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Deepwater Horizon well, where drilling began in 2001, was one of those catalyzed by the Clinton legislation. Overall, deepwater oil production in the Gulf shot up from 42 million barrels in 1996 to 348 million in 2004.
The latter figure represents about 6 percent of total US oil consumption and about 15 percent of domestic production. Natural-gas production from deepwater Gulf drilling increased tenfold during the same period.
The legislation was pushed avidly by Republicans in Congress, particularly those representing the very Gulf states now engulfed by the BP spill.
Unfortunately, the Clinton administration -- and the Bush and Obama administrations that followed -- failed to consider seriously what to do if things went wrong."