STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep on the Grand Trunk Road, an ancient highway where we're talking with young people in India and Pakistan. We'll have more this hour.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We begin this hour with details about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm Renee Montagne with Lynn Neary.
We're learning more about the explosion on that oil rig and the failure of safety systems that were intended to prevent such an accident.
A House subcommittee had a hearing yesterday and NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: Lawmakers zeroed in on the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer, a huge assembly of metal, hydraulics and wiring that's supposed to stop a blowout when it happens, if not sooner. The device is on the floor of the Gulf, where some four million barrels of oil have leaked out since the accident April 20th. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION:� Some 4 million GALLONS of oil have leaked out, not barrels.]
Both the rig and the blowout preventer are owned by Transocean, Ltd. The CEO of the firm, Steve Newman, was challenged on one of the blowout preventer's problems by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Chicago Democrat.
The problem: One of the hydraulic rams had mistakenly been replaced by a piece of test equipment, rendering the ram useless. It led to this exchange between Newman and Schakowsky.
Mr. STEVE NEWMAN (CEO, Transocean, Ltd.): That will not serve to restrict or seal off the flow of hydrocarbons from the well.
Representative JAN SCHAKOWSKY (Democrat, Illinois): So in that case, having it connected to that, would that be a mistake?
Mr. NEWMAN: It would be a mistake to rely on that in a well control situation, yes.
OVERBY: The blowout preventer had other problems too. Controls for the dead man's switch, a device that might have activated the blowout preventer, were connected to a dead battery. And there's evidence that the ultimate preventer, the blind-shear ram, may not have been strong enough to cut through the well pipe and a drill pipe too. After the accident, engineers sent robots down to try to activate it. They didn't get very far.
Here's Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, which leased the rig from Transocean.
Mr. LAMAR MCKAY (Chairman, BP America): We found leaking hoses and, you know, the diagrams that we were using real-time did not match the blowout preventer.
OVERBY: Lawmakers pressed the oil industry executives on other suspected problems. One was the cement and pipe structure within the well. California Democrat Henry Waxman noted that one test showed nothing would leak out of the well but another test, about possible leaks of oil and gas into the well, wasn't so definitive.
Waxman asked Newman, the Transocean chief.
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California): And what significance does that have?
Mr. NEWMAN: The significance of the discrepancy between the two pressures would lead to a conclusion that there was something happening in the well bore that shouldn't be happening.
OVERBY: And Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said BP wildly exaggerated its ability to clean up an oil spill. BP executive McKay defended his company's commitment.
Mr. MCKAY: As I said, we're doing everything we can. I believe that we will learn things through this, there's no doubt. And I believe that those certifications will be with the knowledge that we have...
Representative ED MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I just wish that you had a little more humility here today, and an admission that you don't have it.
OVERBY: Republicans on the panel struck a different tone. They don't want the Deepwater Horizon to become a symbol of what's wrong with fossil fuels. Texas Republican Joe Barton had this warning.
Representative JOE BARTON (Republican, Texas): To use this as the equivalent of the Three Mile Island accident for nuclear power and set back domestic oil and gas production in the Outer Continental Shelf for the next 20 or 30 years -that would not only be a mistake, in my opinion, it would be a disservice to the American people.
OVERBY: Barton said the leaking well is considered capable of producing 50,000 barrels of oil a day - once it's under control.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.