Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano Monday told a Senate committee that she wanted to “reserve judgment on the adequacy” of BP plc’s response efforts to the massive crude oil response in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).
“Whether the exact hours around the sinking of [the] rig, they should have had more or different equipment there, or more or different kinds of expertise there, it would be premature of me to say,” she said during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is reviewing the federal agency response and the industry response to the the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 “The waters of the Gulf are slowing becoming a sea of crude oil,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the panel.
When pressed about her optimism level for controlling the spill soon, Napolitano said she was “just taking it day by day.”
Rear Admiral Peter V. Neffenger of the U.S. Coast Guard said he was “very impressed with what I’ve seen” of the cleanup efforts by federal agencies and industry. “I do believe we have the capability” to carry out an effective cleanup.
Both Neffenger and Napolitano expressed some concern about the spill potentially reaching the southern Florida coast. The Coast Guard “is watching that [the Loop Current] very carefully,” said Neffenger, adding that the Loop Current currently is about 40-50 miles from the southern edge of the spill. If the spill should reach Florida, it would be a “more manageable piece” than what the GOM is facing, he noted.
“We’re actually treating it [Loop Current] as if it were its own coastline,” Napolitano said.
As of Monday, she reported that claims against BP were being filed online. “So far over 16,000 claims have been filed by affected individuals and businesses. BP has paid out over $9.6 million. It has not yet denied a claim,” she said.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and other committee members questioned whether BP had an “adequate” incident management and response plan filed with Interior’s Minerals Management Services (MMS), how often plans should be updated, whether there should be more rigorous requirements for producers drilling in the deepwater, and whether separate response plans should be submitted on how to deal for surface spills and subsea spills.
Lieberman noted that BP had claimed it could collect more than 490,000 bbl/d, but it would be mostly surface oil. He also believes that future response plans need to address what a company would do to stop a spill if a blowout preventer (BOP) failed in the deepwater. The failure of the BOP — which is considered the last line of defense to prevent a spill — led to the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana.
Collins questioned whether the Coast Guard should be mandated to concurrently approve the oil response plans with the MMS. Currently the Coast Guard requires separate response plans per vessel, said Neffenger.
Although the committee does not have jurisdiction over MMS, Lieberman said “I regret MMS leadership has chosen not to appear before our committee.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is scheduled to testify during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday.
The fallout of the oil slick is beginning to be felt at the higher echelons of MMS. The Washington Post reported Monday that Chris Oynes, associate director for offshore energy and minerals management at MMS, will retire at the end of the month. He has come under fire for having an allegedly cozy relationship with the industry officials he managed.
“I can’t comment on any personnel action,” said Interior spokesman Frank Quimby, when NGI asked about Oynes planned departure.
The federal government has imposed a moratorium on any new drilling in the deepwater until investigations into the causes of the disaster are completed. It’s estimated that 60% of the oil in the GOM is from the deepwater.
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