Oil Spill Shakes Up Minerals Management Service
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.
LYNN NEARY, host:
And Im Lynn Neary in for Steve Inskeep, who's in Pakistan.
Oil is still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, and the political and legal battle surrounding the spill is already well underway. We have two reports this morning. In a moment we'll hear about the many lawsuits that already have been filed. But first to Capitol Hill. Executives from three companies involved in the spill took turns casting blame on one another yesterday when they appeared before senators.
NPR's Brian Naylor has our report.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The hearings before the Senate Energy and Environment Committee sounded a bit like an elementary school at recess, only with well-paid executives rather than school boys insisting: I didnt do it, he did.
The president of BP America, which owns the well, said it was a safety blowout protector installed by rig operator Transocean that failed. Transocean CEO said the blame fell on a subcontractor, Halliburton, which installed the cement casing that failed. Halliburton president Tim Probert completed the circle, noting that ultimate responsibility lay with the well owner - that would be BP.
Mr. TIM PROBERT (President, Halliburton): Halliburton is confident that the cementing work on the Mississippi Canyon 252 well was completed in accordance with the requirements of the well owner's well construction plan.
NAYLOR: It all prompted Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, an oil drilling supporter, to deliver a bit of scolding to the executives.
Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): I would suggest to all three of you that we are all in this together, because this incident is affecting, will have impact on the development of our energy policy for this country.
NAYLOR: There was little of substance revealed at the hearings, but there was lots of anger expressed. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson called the continuing oil gusher an environmental nightmare. Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden blasted what he said was BP's culture of one accident after another.
BP America president Lamar McKay said his company has recently instituted management changes, and he reiterated BP will pay any legitimate claims.
Mr. LAMAR MCKAY (President, BP America): Im from the Gulf Coast. I understand the hardship that people are going through. We're going to be fair, responsive, expeditious, and do the right thing here. And we've been clear about that from the outset. And we can put blame and fault and everything off to the side. We are a responsible party and we're acting that way. We intend to continue doing that.
NAYLOR: Transocean CEO Steven Newman was asked about reports that have aired on NPR and elsewhere that survivors of the April 20th explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon were asked to sign medical and legal waivers absolving the company of any damages before they reached shore.
Responding to a question from Democratic from Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, Newman said that was a mischaracterization.
Mr. STEVEN NEWMAN (President, Transocean): We ask our workers if they had any information related to the cause of the event. And we asked our workers if they were injured. I dont it's appropriate to characterize those statements as waivers.
Senator MARK UDALL (Democrat, Colorado): We'll leave that judgment as the investigation unfolds. It certainly left, I think, many people's mouths a sour taste.
NAYLOR: Also coming under criticism was the federal agency responsible for oversight of offshore drilling - the Mineral Management Service, a part of the Department of the Interior. The agency has long been criticized as being too cozy with the industry. Critics also say MMS has a built-in conflict of interest because it collects revenues from oil drillings - some $13 billion last year - while also being charged with overseeing environmental compliance and safety.
Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined a plan to separate those functions.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Interior Department): I believe the job of ensuring energy companies follow the law and protect the safety of their workers and the environment should be independent from MMS's leasing, revenue collection and permitting functions.
NAYLOR: Salazar said the department was still writing the proposal to divide MMS. But the move applauded by many in Congress who hope a revamped agency can keep a closer watch on offshore drilling.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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