Politics

Administration Asserts No Deal with BP; Criticizes Transocean Claim Over Safety

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning on April 21, 2010.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning on April 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar emphatically denied reports that there is a deal with BP to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. "There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that there is some sort of agreement," the secretary said on a conference call with reporters.

Over the weekend, British media reports suggested BP would start drilling in the gulf this summer. "There is no agreement with respect to BP," said Salazar

The interior secretary - who is in Mexico City to discuss with officials there the development of "one gold standard" for oil and gas exploration and development in the gulf - told reporters, "We treat every company" that applies to drill offshore, "with the same set of standards that we would treat everybody else" and that BP would have to go through the same process. "There is nothing here with BP that is different from what we will be doing with all the other companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico," the interior secretary said.

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig one year ago this month, led to the massive oil spill President Obama called this country's environmental 9-11. The administration temporarily halted all drilling as it took three months to cap the Macondo well, an arduous process which wasn't achieved before an estimated 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the gulf. The drilling ban was lifted in October, and since then eight permits have been granted.

"The simple fact is that everyone who wants to do business in drilling in either shallow or deep water needs to meet the stringent requirements that have been in place since the spill last year," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at Monday's briefing with reporters. "And permits are issued based on the capacity of a company to meet the requirements that those new standards have set. And again, the DOI [Department of Interior] doesn't make deals; it issues permits based on the merits of the application. That would be true of any company."

During the height of the spill, President Obama, through an executive order, established a bipartisan commission to investigate the incident. Co-chairs Bob Graham, the former Democratic senator from Florida, and William Reilly, the former EPA Administrator during President George H.W. Bush's administration, issued their report earlier this year. The commission found the well's blowout, which killed 11 rig workers on April 20, to have been the result of human error and charged that BP, which leased the Macondo well, Halliburton, which was responsible for cementing the drill well, and Transocean, the company that operated the rig, committed "systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry."

Despite the commission's findings, and public impressions, Transocean has awarded executive bonuses for the company's "best year in safety performance."

Reilly, who along with Sen. Graham was participating in the conference call with reporters, slammed Transocean, saying the company "just doesn't get it." Reilly said the bonuses underscore the commission's findings that complacency helped led to this nation's worst environmental disaster and is "embarrassing" for Transocean.

In a filing with the Security and Exchanges Commission, Transocean wrote, "Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate and total potential severity rate."

The filing goes on saying, "As measured by these standards, we recorded the best year in safety performance in our company's history, which is a reflection on our commitment to achieving an incident free environment, all the time, everywhere."

Senator Graham said that as part of the commission's recommendations - that because the gulf is one body of water and therefore what happens in the national waters of one country would affect other countries - Secretary Salazar traveled to Mexico to talk about shared efforts to improve offshore exploration and development. During the conference call Salazar announced an April 14 forum in Washington on offshore drilling containment. Mexico, Canada and 10 other countries are to participate in order to "share the lessons" of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.