Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, Tuesday said the major focus of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill should be on “how [to] contain this devastation,” rather than on calling BP officials to Capitol Hill to “assign blame” for the disaster.
“Folks want to bring the individuals from BP, get the execs in here and basically start pounding them,” Murkowski said at the weekly Republican Leadership press briefing. “My interest right now is to make sure that everybody who can do anything to help contain the spill is doing that job right now rather than coming up here and trying to figure out how they going to be briefing the Congress.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — on which Murkowski is the ranking Republican — had planned a hearing for Thursday on the fire and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that led to the major oil spill, but it postponed it until May 11 due to the continuing crisis.
“We’ll have a chance at that time to speak with the folks from BP and from Transocean to try to determine are we doing all that we can to contain the devastation,” she said. Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig was under contract to BP (see related story).
Murkowski said the nation, especially Alaskans, are watching the Gulf oil spill with “great trepidation,” calling it a “nightmare unfolding slowly before your eyes.”
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said local leaders in Louisiana have developed parish-by-parish plans to protect the state’s coastline from the spewing oil. Once they are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, “BP [will be] automatically on the hook to pay for implementation” of the plans, which call for the producer to hire fishermen, whose livelihood has been interrupted, to protect the coastline.
He further noted that there has to be an “enormous discussion” on Capitol Hill about policy and a producer’s economic liability once the the oil spill disaster has been resolved.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), an advocate of oil and gas drilling, met with BP CEO Tony Hayward for a second time Tuesday. “While BP is complying with the current law, it is clear to me that there needs to be greater oversight on filed claims to ensure Gulf Coast businesses are fairly and quickly compensated for their losses. If there needs to be a change in the law to improve the claims process, I will work to introduce and pass legislation as soon as possible,” she said following the meeting.
“I will continue to meet with top federal officials and BP executives regularly until this situation is under control, the risk to our coast is eliminated, and proper safeguards have been put in place as we move forward with drilling offshore,” Landrieu said.
And Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), a long-time opponent of offshore drilling, has asked Interior Department’s inspector general to launch an investigation into whether the oil and gas industry exerted influence over regulators between 2000 and 2004 over the selection of back-up systems to prevent a blowout.
Deepwater drilling rigs have emergency shut-off valves called blowout prevention (BOP) devices. But the Deepwater Horizon rig didn’t have an acoustic backup switch to trigger the BOP device in the event of an accident, according to Nelson.
“In light of the recent events, I am asking you to review the process by which MMS [Minerals Management Service] reviewed and finalized…regulations relevant to blowout preventers and well controls,” Nelson wrote in a letter Monday to Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall. “I ask that you determine in your investigation the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence in the agency’s rulemaking process.”
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