Saturday, May 22, 2010

Month after oil spill, why is BP still in charge?

Not having any inside info or knowledge on the subject, I have to wonder why it is just now an option to close off the leak with some kind of permanent seal. All the attempts so far have, coincidentally, included siphoning off the oil into tankers on the surface where it could be shipped off and sold.

"There's nothing that we think can and should be done that isn't being done. Nothing," Gibbs said Friday during a lengthy, often testy exchange with reporters about the response to the oil disaster.

Has the administration told BP to just close it down?

Days after the Gulf Coast oil spill, the Obama administration pledged to keep its "boot on the throat" of BP to make sure the company did all it could to cap the gushing leak and clean up the spill.

But a month after the April 20 explosion, anger is growing about why BP PLC is still in charge of the response.

In fact, the government is overseeing things. But the official responsible for that says he still understands the discontent.

"If anybody is frustrated with this response, I would tell them their symptoms are normal, because I'm frustrated, too," said Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen.

"Nobody likes to have a feeling that you can't do something about a very big problem," Allen told The Associated Press Friday.

Still, as simple as it may seem for the government to just take over, the law prevents it, Allen said.

After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, Congress dictated that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents — including paying for all cleanup — with oversight by federal agencies. Spills on land are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, offshore spills by the Coast Guard.

"The basic notion is you hold the responsible party accountable, with regime oversight" from the government, Allen said. "BP has not been relieved of that responsibility, nor have they been relieved for penalties or for oversight."

Allen, the incident commander, said the main problem for federal responders is the unique nature of the spill — 5,000 feet below the surface with no human access.

"This is really closer to Apollo 13 than Exxon Valdez," he said, referring to a near-disastrous Moon mission 40 years ago.

"Access to this well-site is through technology that is owned in the private sector," Allen said, referring to remotely operated vehicles and sensors owned by BP.

Even so, the company has largely done what officials have asked, Allen said. Most recently, it responded to an EPA directive to find a less toxic chemical dispersant to break up the oil underwater.

In two instances — finding samples from the bottom of the ocean to test dispersants and distributing booms to block the oil — BP did not respond as quickly as officials had hoped, Allen said. In both cases they ultimately complied.
Read AP article here.

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