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. 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 lackof 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.
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.’