Congress investigating oil rig explosion

Published April 27, 2010

| Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers on Tuesday asked the owner and operator of the oil rig that exploded last week in the Gulf of Mexico for documents as part of a congressional investigation into the accident.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California, and the chairman of the committee's investigations subcommittee, Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, made the request in letters to Transocean Ltd., the rig's owner, and to BP PLC, which operates the rig.

"A striking feature of the incident is the apparent lack of an adequate plan to contain the spreading environmental damage," the lawmakers wrote. They said they are investigating "what the companies knew about the risks of drilling at the site and the adequacy of the companies' response plans."

Waxman and Stupak asked the companies for documents, including communications to or from senior officials, on the risk of an accident; potential responses; testing of emergency response procedures; emergency management and contingency plans; and environmental protection and response plans submitted to regulators.

Eleven people are missing and presumed dead from the explosion about 50 miles off Louisiana's coast. The explosion also caused a massive oil spill.

"We've just received Chairman Waxman's letter and will review it and respond to it in short order," said Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman. "In the meantime, we remain focused on supporting our people and providing our full support to BP and the unified command," the federal agencies investigating the explosion.

BP did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on the lawmakers' letters.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they will devote every available resource to a comprehensive investigation of the explosion. The two Cabinet secretaries signed an order establishing the next steps for a joint investigation that began last week into the causes of the explosion of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

The U.S. Coast Guard, as part of the DHS, and the Minerals Management Service, part of Interior, share jurisdiction for the probe. Investigators will have the power to issue subpoenas, hold public hearings, call witnesses, and take other steps that may be needed to determine the cause of the incident.

Meanwhile, BP last year joined with other oil companies to oppose a proposed federal rule that would have imposed stricter safety and environmental regulations. Richard Morrison, a BP vice president, made his objection in a letter to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service last fall.

In the letter, reported Tuesday by Greenwire, Morrison wrote: "We are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule. We believe industry's current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs" have and will continue to be successful.

The rule has not yet been finalized.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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