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12 May, 2010 03:30

Toxins from Gulf of Mexico reached Capitol Hill

As oil continues to gush from a deepwater well, adding to the catastrophic slick in the Gulf of Mexico, company executives have been blaming each other at a Senate hearing into the disaster.

The ongoing Gulf of Mexico disaster has finally spilled its toxins onto Capitol Hill.

“There's no such thing as too safe to spill,” said Senator Robert Menendez.

Testifying before a heated senate committee – top officials from BP America, the primary operator of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the main contractor in charge of cementing the oil well from exploding.

“If we cannot continue to operate and convince people that we can perform safely then not only will BP not be out there, but the Transoceans won’t be there to drill the rig and the Halliburtons won’t be there to provide the cementing,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said.

Journalist Greg Palast, who took part in the investigation into the BP Exxon Valdez oil disaster of 1989, blames British Petroleum for cutting its safety budget, which led to the accident.

“I’ve been following [British Petroleum] for two decades. Last year they cut production costs by $1 billion while production increased in the most dangerous areas, like offshore,” he said. Moreover, he believes the spill is even beneficial for the company:

“Because of the spill the price of oil went up about $2.5 per barrel. That means that they are making $10 million a day while the spill is happening,” he added.

A crude awakening for the oil industry meets public and congressional outrage. Let the oversight games begin. The oil spill fiasco happened April 20. BP says Transocean's rig was not secure.

“Transocean is the owner and operator of the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ drilling rig and had responsibility for the safety of the drilling operations,” said Lamar McKay, president of BP America.

Transocean points to Halliburton's failure to cement the well.

"There was a sudden catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing or both,” said Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean, Ltd.

Halliburton did admit to failure.

“Prior to the point in the well construction plan that the Halliburton personnel would have set the final cement plug, the catastrophic incident occurred. As a result, the final cement plug was never set,” Tim Probert from Halliburton said.

BP's plan B – fight chemicals with more chemicals.

“What is not clear is what the chemicals might be doing to the marine life in the bottom of the oceans,” Senator Mary Landrieu said.

The glaring spotlight turned from the corporate oil industry to the MineralsMmanagement Services (MMS).

The MMS – the agency that is suppose to regulate the oil industry and impose safety guidelines and regulations – is being charged with allowing the industry to run wild with very limited oversight and regulation.

"Are this types of delays common or have they occurred more recently since MMS has began relying more on industry self-regulation?" asked Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

On the other side of town, Jason Von Kandar joined dozens of protesters outside the Department of Interior. He wants to save his state from off-shore drilling prospects looming overhead.

"What's going on in the Gulf cannot be repeated, and make sure it never happens anywhere in the nation," Jason said.

Reverend Lenox Yearwood, born and raised in New Orleans, also joined the protest. He held a banner for President Obama brought all the way from New Orleans, and is tagged with messages from residents of Louisiana’s coastline.

Back on the Hill, round one of the oversight series wrapped up. Under cloudy skies in Washington, it's unlikely the weather will clear as the depths of the “Deepwater Horizon” disaster remain saturated in money, oil and industry politics.

Read also: Nuclear explosion can heal the bleeding wound in the Gulf of Mexico