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BP Seeks New Dispersant, Investigates Spill; MMS Scandal

Tue, 05/25/2010 - 7:06am

COVINGTON, La. (AP) — Oil giant BP is focused on two key areas around the blown wellhead as it probes the cause of the unchecked Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company said as it started to brief federal authorities on its internal investigation.

BP PLC said in a release late Monday that it has not reached a final conclusion. But it said multiple control mechanisms should have prevented the accident that started with an oil rig explosion April 20 off the coast of Louisiana.

The largest oil and gas producer in the Gulf listed seven mechanisms where its hunt for a cause is focused. Four of those involve the blowout preventer, a massive piece of machinery that sits atop the wellhead and is supposed to act as a safety device of last resort. The other three areas of investigation involve the cementing and casing of the wellhead.

Three companies were involved with BP on the well: Transocean LTD owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the blowout preventer; Halliburton Inc. was responsible for encasing the well in cement; and Cameron International Corp. manufactured the blowout preventer.

President Barack Obama has blasted executives from the companies for blaming each other during Congressional hearings this month.

In BP's release, Chief Executive Tony Hayward stopped short of assigning responsibility, calling the disaster "a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures."

"A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early — and not up to us — to say who is at fault," Hayward said.

BP said its investigation team has begun sharing its findings with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure as frustrations build with the failure to cap the well. Millions of gallons of oil stretch across a 150-mile swath from Grand Isle, La., to Dauphin Island, Ala., endangering wildlife and livelihoods in commercial fishing and tourism.

BP said there was still extensive work to do in its investigation, including examining major pieces of equipment like the blowout preventer and the rig that are still on the seafloor.

The internal investigation started the day after the rig exploded, burned and sank. It is being conducted by BP's Head of Group Safety and Operations, who has an independent reporting line to Hayward, the company said.

In Washington, a report by the Interior Department's inspector general found ethics violations at the agency that overseas offshore drilling. The report, which follows up on a 2007 investigation, found that staffers at the Minerals Management Service accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the findings were "deeply disturbing" and showed the importance of his plan to abolish the agency and replace it with three new entities.

The report, which follows up on a 2007 investigation, found that MMS staffers accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography.

Salazar said several employees in the report have resigned, were fired, terminated or referred for prosecution. All the violations mentioned in the report occurred between 2000 and 2008.

After butting heads with BP over its use of a chemical to break up the oil in the water, the Obama administration said Tuesday the company is complying with the government's request to use less of the toxic dispersant.

White House energy adviser Carol Browner said alternative dispersants aren't so readily available.

In a letter to BP last week, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the company three days to find a less toxic alternative to the dispersant it's using, Corexit 9500. But in a series of meetings that followed, Browner said, it became clear the alternatives were not as widely available as needed.

"There are not as many being manufactured as people thought in the quantities" needed, Browner said in a round of television appearances on morning news shows.

"We need to determine whether or not those alternatives are available, and the EPA is doing that, but in the meantime, EPA has directed BP to use less of the dispersants and they're required to follow that," Browner said.

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