UPDATE: BP has given into demands by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), and now plans to show a live video feed of its "top kill" attempt to plug the oil spill. Markey issued a press release Tuesday about BP's reversal. Watch the BP oil spill live feed here.
WASHINGTON - BP readied yet another attempt to slow the oil gushing into the Gulf on Tuesday as separate reports surfaced criticizing government drilling regulators and the Obama administration's supposed moratorium to ban offshore oil drilling.
NPR reports that almost 30 days since President Obama declared that no new oil drilling leases would be issued, the moratorium has neither been put in writing, nor sent to the Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with implementing the ban. Instead, Interior Secretary Ken Slazar gave only verbal orders to suspend offshore drilling in the wake of the April 20 rig explosion that preceded the spill.
According to NPR, the lack of a formal document outlining the moratorium has confused environmental lawyers seeking to revoke permits issued after the explosion.
A separate government report has alleged that drilling regulators were so close to the industry that they accepted gifts from oil and gas companies and even negotiated to go work for them.
President Barack Obama prepared to head to the Gulf on Friday to review efforts to halt the disastrous flow.
Scientists said underwater video of the leak showed the plume growing significantly darker, suggesting heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out.
BP's next effort to stop the gushing oil will, perhaps Wednesday, is to involve a procedure called a "top kill," in which heavy mud and cement are to be shot into the well to plug it up. The procedure has never been tried a mile beneath the sea, and company executives estimate its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) who pushed BP to release a live feed of the spill has just announced that his office has learned that BP will kill the live feed during the "top kill" procedure.
"It is outrageous that BP would kill the video feed for the top kill. This BP blackout will obscure a vital moment in this disaster," said Rep. Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. "After more than a month of spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is essentially saying to the American people the solution will not be televised."
"No one wants to interfere with the operations during the top kill. With those preparations mostly done, now the world should see whether or not this strategy works, and we should see it in real time," said Rep. Markey.
Rep. Markey yesterday had also asked BP to provide all 12 available feeds from the accident site, and yesterday released a YouTube video showing the differences between the one feed the public has been allowed to see and the 12 possible feeds available to BP.
You can watch the live feed here.
In Washington, the Obama administration said it has been laboring to root out problems at the agency that regulates offshore drilling.
In at least one case, according to a new report from the Interior Department's acting inspector general, an inspector for the Minerals Management Service admitted using crystal methamphetamine and said he might have been under the influence of the drug the next day at work.
The report cites a variety of violations of federal regulations and ethics rules at the agency's Louisiana office. Previous inspector general investigations have focused on inappropriate behavior by the royalty-collection staff in the agency's Denver office.
The report adds to the climate of frustration and criticism facing the Obama administration in the monthlong oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, although it covers actions before the spill. Millions of gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf, endangering wildlife and the livelihoods of fishermen, as scrutiny intensifies on a lax regulatory climate.
The report began as a routine investigation, the acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, said in a cover letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department includes the agency.
"Unfortunately, given the events of April 20 of this year, this report had become anything but routine, and I feel compelled to release it now," she wrote.
Her biggest concern is the ease with which minerals agency employees move between industry and government, Kendall said. While no specifics were included in the report, "we discovered that the individuals involved in the fraternizing and gift exchange -- both government and industry -- have often known one another since childhood," Kendall said.
Their relationships took precedence over their jobs, Kendall said.
The report follows a 2008 report by then-Inspector General Earl Devaney that decried a "culture of ethical failure" and conflicts of interest at the minerals agency.
Salazar called the latest report "deeply disturbing" and said it highlights the need for changes he has proposed, including a plan to abolish the minerals agency and replace it with three new entities.
The report "is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry," Salazar said Tuesday. "I appreciate and fully support the inspector general's strong work to root out the bad apples in MMS."
Salazar said several employees cited in the report have resigned, were fired or were referred for prosecution. Actions may be taken against others as warranted, he said.
The report covers activities between 2000 and 2008. Salazar said he has asked Kendall to expand her investigation to look into agency actions since he took office in January 2009.
Salazar last week proposed eliminating the Minerals Management Service and replacing it with two bureaus and a revenue collection office. The name Minerals Management Service would no longer exist.
Members of Congress and President Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.
The report said that employees from the Lake Charles, La., MMS office had repeatedly accepted gifts, including hunting and fishing trips from the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas company working on oil platforms regulated by the Interior Department.
Taking such gifts "appears to have been a generally accepted practice," the report said.
Two employees at the Lake Charles office admitted using illegal drugs, and many inspectors had e-mails that contained inappropriate humor and pornography on their government computers, the report said.
Kendall recommended a series of steps to improve ethical standards, including a two-year waiting period for agency employees to join the oil or gas industry.
One MMS inspector conducted four inspections of Island Operating platforms while negotiating and later accepting employment with the company, the report said.
A spokeswoman for Island Operating Company could not be reached for comment. The Louisiana-based company says on it website that it has "an impeccable safety record" and cites Safety Awards for Excellence from the MMS in 1999 and 2002. The company was a finalist in other years.
"Island knows how to get the job done safely and compliantly," the website says.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the report "yet another black eye for the Minerals Management Service. Once again, MMS employees have been found culpable of performing shoddy oversight of offshore drilling. The report reveals an overly cozy culture between MMS regulators and the oil industry."
Feinstein, who chairs a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department, said she will hold a hearing next month on Salazar's plan to restructure the agency.
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