Every branch of government investigating killer oil rig disaster

As the Senate dithers on clean energy reform, every branch of the government “” Congress, the Obama administration, and the courts “” is investigating the oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana that has killed 11 workers and left three in critical condition.  Brad Johnson has the story in this Wonk Room repost.

The obliterated hulk of the Deepwater Horizon rig has sunk to the ocean floor, the shattered drilling apparatus now leaking thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf. Attempts to shut down the leaks by underwater robot have failed, so authorities are considering building an underwater dome and setting the growing oil slick ablaze before it reaches shore. The rig is owned and operated by BP America and Transocean Limited.

Administration officials Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the “the next steps for the investigation that is underway into the causes of the April 20 explosion that left 11 workers missing, three critically injured, and an ongoing oil spill that the responsible party and federal agencies are working to contain and clean up.” There is a joint investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard (under Napolitano) and the Minerals and Mining Service (under Salazar) into the explosion’s death and destruction.

In the House of Representatives, energy committee chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and oversight subcommittee chair Bart Stupak (D-MI) launched an investigation into “the adequacy of the companies’ risk management and emergency response plans for accidental oil and gas releases at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and other offshore deep water or ultra-deep water drilling facilities.” In letters to BP America CEO Lamar McKay and Transocean CEO Steven Newman, the lawmakers cite the “apparent lack
of an adequate plan to contain the spreading environmental damage” and request documents by May 14.

In the Senate, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) have called for a joint hearing by the Senate commerce and energy committees to oversee the efforts by the federal agencies involved (NOAA, MMS, and the Coast Guard).

A lawsuit has been filed in the federal courts by the wife of one of the victims, charging Transocean, BP America, and Halliburton with negligence. Halliburton “was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap,” which may have failed and caused the explosion.

In 2005, an explosion at BP’s Texas City Refinery killed 15 workers. In response to safety violations at that facility, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration levied a record fine of $87 million against BP, which BP promptly challenged in court. Since 2006, there have been 509 fires resulting in at least two fatalities and 12 injuries on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Update: As the oil spill drifts toward Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) began walking back his 2008 “Drill, Baby, Drill” flip-flop on offshore drilling:

If this doesn’t give somebody pause, there’s something wrong. I have always said it would need to be far enough, clean enough and safe enough. I’m not sure this was far enough, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t clean enough and it doesn’t sound like it was safe enough.’

17 Responses to Every branch of government investigating killer oil rig disaster

  1. prokaryote says:

    Latest image of Explosion, Leak at Gulf of Mexico Oil Well

  2. knoxkp says:

    There’s a good chance that if Big Oil had done everything they could have to prevent just this kind of mishap/disaster, instead of obstructing new safety regs claiming they could police themselves, they would have had unfetterred access to all the offshore drilling they wanted. Now, presuming some level of common sense prevails, in the wake of what promises to be a truly horrendous spill they’ll have to fight and lobby and buy more politicians than ever before that’ll be allowed to happen.

    The only god is the god of irony. All hail!

  3. Carroll Branson says:

    Looks like something from an eco terror group. Greenpeace may know.

  4. Stuart says:

    Eco-terrorists – LOL! They must be from Innsmouth.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Since one of the cook’s on the rig described the lights going out and then the explosion happening, I think we can rule out Greenpeace doing something. Lets keep in perspective that 11 people died on that thing.

    The potential for a much larger black eye on offshore drilling is enormous (as anyone who remembers the Exxon Valdez disaster remembers, which was much smaller spill). You’ve got oil drifting towards 2 maybe 3 states and white beaches in FL in its sites (not rocky unpopulated shores in AK).

  6. Mark says:

    Ken Salazar has approved the Cape Wind project, the first offshore wind project in the United States. This is a huge victory for clean energy.

    Meanwhile, the disaster from the oil rig explosion in the Gulf continues to expand as an oil slick the size of Rhode Island heads towards shore. None of the oil industry’s methods of containing the oil spill are working, so the US Coast Guard has made the decision to burn the oil.

    This is a very interesting confluence of events. It would be hard to imagine how one could more dramatically illustrate the divergent futures we can expect for our world if we follow the clean energy path or if we follow the dirty, drill-baby-drill, fossil-fuel powered vision of the future.

    Our nation made the commitment 40 years ago to clean water and clean air after the Cuyahuga River caught fire as a result of an oil spill there. When we see that our best case scenario from a deep oil rig accident is to set fire to an oil slick the size of Rhode Island, we are just beginning to understand the true costs of this type of accident.

    To those residents of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod who are concerned about their view from their beach front properties, I ask that you consider the effect of an oil slick the size of Rhode Island traveling up the Gulf Stream and polluting our shores from Louisiana to Cape Cod. We are all connected.

    Our rivers and oceans should not be on fire. We must commit to ourselves, to our nation, to our children that we will do everything in our power to ensure that this does not occur again!

  7. lizardo says:

    HuffPost had a piece reposted yesterday on the commondreams site about Big Oil fighting regs before this horror, but on the other hand I recommend a shortish piece by Dave Lindorff posted there today ‘Murphy’s Law…’ which begins by pointing out that BP had a ‘fail-safe’ system… and the horrors of an event like this occurring in the arctic.

    Charlie Crist is to be applauded for having rapid second thoughts. The fact is that oil drilling is never far enough, clean enough and safe enough.

    Demand your Senators get their hands on that movie ‘Dead Ahead’ about the Exxon-Valdez disaster and watch the archival footage at the end of both land mammals, sea mammals and birds sinking to their death in the oil. It was shot by an Alaskan environmental official.

    This disaster is like Day one or two of Chernobyl, we haven’t seen the worst yet I fear…

  8. fj2 says:

    While everyone is so hyped up on investigating accidents maybe some other government agencies besides the World Health Organization, Federal Highway Safety Administration, etc., should look into the annual 1.2 million globally killed in road accidents — 20 million injured — statistics largely acknowledged to be seriously under-reported in the developing world; greater than 35,000 killed in the U.S.; 200 to 300 killed in New York City with 70,000 injured; pretty much on the roster of treatable and preventable diseases.

    And, in New York City within sight of the Newtown Creek oil spill disaster much larger than Exxon Valdez.

  9. mark says:

    Although most people seem to have the memory of a gnat,

    perhaps images of the gulf of mexico ablaze

    will finally cause people to wake up.

    Yet another unbearable to contemplate, man made, 100 percent

    unnecessary, ecological disaster.

    Where’s Obama, who thought recently we should open up offshore drilling? where is he?

  10. Brendan says:

    The financial industry said it could regulate itself and then the “great recession.”

    The auto industry said it could regulate itself and then gas pedals stuck.

    The coal industry said it could regulate itself and then miners died.

    Now the oil industry says it can regulate itself and…

    And yet the American people still scream “too much government interference!” You would think we would learn sooner or later that someone needs to regulate industry, and government is the logical choice over mythical “self regulation.” There might be a balance here somewhere.

  11. prokaryote says:

    BP said tonight that a third leak has developed in an undersea oil well and government officials raised their estimate of how much oil is leaking into a growing slick threatening the Gulf Coast.

    Read Adm. Mary Landry, commander of Coast Guard District 8, said the government has offered BP access to Defense Department technology that may not be available in the commercial sector in its efforts to address the increasingly serious spill resulting from a deadly drilling rig explosion last week.

    Earlier, the Coast Guard set fire to portions of the advancing oil slick, hoping to limit the amount of crude that reaches this particularly vulnerable coastline.

    The new leak is near the well head under 5,000 feet of water, and like the other two, is in a now-tangled pipe called a riser that connected the well to the drilling rig on the surface.

    Officials have been estimating the well is leaking at least 1,000 barrels, 42,000 gallons, every day, but on Wednesday night raised the top range to 5,000 barrels..

    Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP exploration and production, said at an evening news conference that the oil company does not believe the new leak has significantly increased the flow, but acknowledged “there is no way to put a meter on this flow rate.”

    A 1,000 member task force with the British oil giant has so far failed to stanch the flow.

  12. Andy Gunther says:

    The Exxon Valdez oil spill was 42,000 barrels. We ain’t there yet, but we’re on the way.

  13. prokaryote says:

    Gulf Oil Spill Rate Must Be Much Higher Than Stated – 6 Million Gallons So Far?

    So if 3% of today’s slick (173.5 km2) is 100 microns thick, and the remainder (5,609.5 km2) is 1 micron thick that’s a total of 22,960 cubic meters of oil: 6,065,390 gallons. That’s right: more than 6 million gallons spilled into the Gulf of Mexico so far.

  14. Wonhyo says:

    It seems to me that there is currently no definite solution for stopping the flow, so the time frame in which the flow of oil might stop is open-ended, unless the natural pressure starts declining rapidly.

    The Exxon Valdez oil spill was limited to the oil that was in the tanker ship. This recent oil spill has the potential to be much, much larger, unless the flow is stopped, soon.

  15. FS says:

    I wonder, if the emissions from the burned oil are covered by Kyoto Protocol…

  16. Preston Wright says:

    Mark #6
    Great quote:
    “This is a very interesting confluence of events. It would be hard to imagine how one could more dramatically illustrate the divergent futures we can expect for our world if we follow the clean energy path or if we follow the dirty, drill-baby-drill, fossil-fuel powered vision of the future.”

    I couldn’t agree more. The metastasizing black cancer in the Gulf of Mexico could end up being the largest environmental disaster in US history. Cape Wind is a small beginning but I hope it is a resounding victory toward the future.

  17. Stuart says:

    Preston & Mark, I agree as well. I know I would rather have a wind farm off my coast than an oil slick.