As the massive oil spill caused by the worst rig explosion in decades continues to spread across the Gulf of Mexico, more questions are being raised about the safety procedures and environmental response plans of BP and TransOcean, the oil behemoth and contractor drilling the well.
On Monday, the Huffington Post reported that BP and Transocean, along with dozens of other members of the oil industry, have vigorously opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling. The new regulations, which have been attacked by the industry in over 100 letters sent to the agency, were prompted by a study showing many accidents on such rigs from 2001 to 2007.
In addition, a lawsuit filed by the wife of one of the 11 oil workers presumed dead in the accident claims that the companies violated "numerous statutes and regulations" issued by federal agencies. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.
Now, members of Congress are demanding answers from the companies and the agency and administration officials have launched a full investigation of the incident.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Energy Secretary Ken Salazar announced a joint investigation into the incident -- with the power to issue subpoenas, hold public hearings and call witnesses -- which will probe possible criminal or civil violations by the operators of the rig.
"We will remain focused on providing every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway at the Deepwater Horizon, but we are also aggressively and quickly investigating what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident in the future," said Salazar.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to MMS on Tuesday, demanding that the agency "stand up to industry pressure, and finalize its proposed rulemaking" to require operators to develop and implement a safety and environmental management plan for offshore oil and gas development.
Until the investigation is complete we have no way of knowing whether this rule could have prevented the tragedy at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, but if this rule can make oil rig operations safer then we should finalize the rule as soon as possible.
I understand BP and other major oil operators have opposed this rulemaking, but given the current tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico it seems clear that tighter safety procedures are in order.
In addition, the House Committee On Energy and Commerce announced an investigation into the companies' environmental response plan to the incident, including "the adequacy of the companies' risk management." Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent letters to Lamar McKay, the chairman and president of BP America, and Steven Newman, president and CEO of TransOcean.
Also, BP is being investigated by MMS over a whistleblower's claims that the company violated federal law by not keeping key documents related to another deepwater production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the Guardian.
Spokespersons for BP and TransOcean did not return calls for comment.
Read the letter from Sen. Menendez to MMS: