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BP accused of withholding ‘critical’ spill data

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The company that owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico is accusing BP of withholding what it describes as critical evidence needed to investigate the cause of the worst maritime oil spill in history, according to a confidential internal document obtained by the Associated Press.

In a sternly worded letter to BP's attorneys, Transocean said the oil giant has in its sole possession information key to identifying the cause "of the tragic loss of eleven lives and the pollution in the Gulf of Mexico" and that the company's refusal to turn over the documents has hampered Transocean's investigation and hindered what it has been able to tell families of the deceased and state and federal investigators about the accident.

"This is troubling, both in light of BP's frequently stated public commitment to openness and a fair investigation, and because it appears that BP is withholding evidence in an attempt to prevent any entity other than BP from investigating the cause of the April 20 incident and the resulting spill," the letter said. Copies of the letter were also sent to government agencies and lawmakers investigating the spill's cause.

President Obama sternly warned months ago that companies involved in the accident needed to work together and with the government on the investigation, saying: "I will not tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility."

BP spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford confirmed that company had reviewed the letter, but she called its accusations misleading and misguided, particularly the charge that BP was withholding evidence.

"We have been at the forefront of cooperating with various investigations commissioned by the U. S. government and others into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy," Ms. Ashford said. "Our commitment to cooperate with these investigations has been and remains unequivocal and steadfast."

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the Gulf oil spill, told the AP during a conference call with reporters Thursday that he was not aware of Transocean's letter and could not comment on it. Asked if BP has withheld any information vital to the government, Adm. Allen said, "None that I am aware of."

According to Transocean, BP has rebuffed at least seven of its requests for information. And while BP has turned over some documents, it has not provided Transocean with any information since June 21 and has not even acknowledged the company's requests since Aug. 3, the letter said.

Transocean said that certain limited information it has been able to retrieve from BP came only after the company reluctantly signed a confidentiality agreement.

"Ultimately, and despite our reservations, we agreed to BP's condition of secrecy because there is no other source of key well data," the letter says.

The company is seeking 16 pieces of technical information from BP, including pressure tests, logs and other data.

In another development, the U.S. government said Thursday the final plugging of BP's blown-out Gulf well will begin sometime after Labor Day.

Jeffrey Carter, an aide to the government's spill chief, told AP that the plan is to replace a failed piece of equipment called the blowout preventer first.

Then BP will finish drilling the relief well it can use to plug up the blown-out well with mud and cement from the bottom, a procedure known as a bottom kill.

Mr. Carter said that if everything goes as planned, the final plugging will begin after Sept. 6.

"That's the anticipation, yes," Mr. Carter said, "so long as the conditions are met."

He said the decision was made overnight, just hours after Adm. Allen told reporters he wasn't giving a time line.

Mr. Carter said he did not know why things came together so quickly or why it will take nearly three more weeks to begin the bottom kill.

Adm. Allen previously said replacing the blowout preventer was the quicker of the two options engineers were considering to relieve pressure that may build up when the relief well intersects the blown-out well. The other was to design a mechanism to attach to the current equipment.

A cap has kept oil from flowing from the blown-out well for more than a month, but that's just a temporary solution. Mud and cement later was pumped in through the top of the well, significantly reducing the pressure inside it.

The government believes the bottom-kill procedure is necessary to declare the well dead once and for all.

Harry R. Weber reported from New Orleans.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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