- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2010

UPDATED:

WASHINGTON (AP) — BP PLC told Congress on Tuesday its massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill was caused by the failure of a key safety device made by another company.

In turn, that company says that BP was in charge and that a third company that poured the concrete to plug the exploratory well did not do so correctly.

The third company, which was plugging the well in anticipation of future production, says it was only following BP’s plan.

The blame game shot into the open Tuesday as the Senate began a hearing into the oil spill that has been contaminating water in the Gulf of Mexico for three weeks and threatens sensitive marshes and marine life from Alabama to Texas.

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Executives of the three companies, all scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, are trying to shift responsibility for the environmental crisis to one another, according to prepared testimony.

In opening the hearing, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said the failures that led to explosion and spill need to be examined closely so new safety measures can be imposed.

“I don’t believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence,” Mr. Bingaman said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, who is the panel’s top GOP member, said it is essential to determine whether the drilling rig operators followed regulations and the law. She also said the accident must not interfere with continued offshore oil exploration and production.

The industry testimony planned for the hearing demonstrated the fissures among companies caught up in the accident and its legal and economic fallout.

“I hear one message — don’t blame me,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican. “Shifting the blame game doesn’t get us very far.”

A top executive of BP PLC, which leased the rig for exploratory drilling, focused on a critical safety device that was supposed to shut off oil flow on the ocean floor in the event of a well blowout but “failed to operate.”

“That was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident,” Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, said, pointedly noting that the 450-ton blowout protector, as well as the rig itself, was owned by Transocean Ltd.

Of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it was engulfed in flames, only seven were BP employees, Mr. McKay said.

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