Coast Guard ex-chief says third party could represent future BPs in spills to avoid conflicts

By Seth Borenstein, AP
Monday, September 27, 2010

Allen: Third party needed in oil spill response

WASHINGTON — The federal official running the BP oil spill response is proposing a third party to represent polluters to correct the perception that the company is in charge of cleaning up its own mess.

Incident Commander Thad Allen told the national oil spill commission that BP in no way tried to short-change costs, even though the public and politicians thought the company did. He proposed that someone from the oil industry could represent the polluter in future spills, instead of the company at fault, and eliminate the possible conflict of interest.

Twice Billy Nungesser — president of Plaquemines Parish, one of the Louisiana parishes affected by the spill — told the oil spill commission that he still doesn’t know who is in charge.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel that President Barack Obama appointed to investigate the Gulf oil spill will begin Monday to scrutinize how his administration reacted to the disaster.

The two-day meeting of the presidential oil spill commission will look at the controversial use of chemical dispersants, a moratorium on deep-water drilling and Obama’s plans to make the Gulf’s environment better than it was before the accident. It will also examine who was in charge of making critical decisions — BP PLC or the federal government.

The April 20 explosion and fire killed 11 workers, sunk the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and unleashed 206 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. It also tested the oil industry’s and government’s capabilities to respond to a massive blowout in deep water.

The commission’s meeting follows testimony made by BP to another panel of independent experts in Washington on Sunday that revealed gaps in the company’s internal investigation into what caused the massive spill.

BP’s study found eight separate failures led to the blowout. The report blamed BP and other companies, including Transocean, the rig’s owner, and Halliburton Co., which was contracted to do the cement work.

But the conclusions were made without examining the drilling rig, which remains on the sea floor, or the blowout preventer, a key safety device that was brought to shore only recently. Instead, the company relied extensively on real-time data collected aboard the rig to reconstruct what happened. BP also did not have access to samples of the cement used to seal the well, and said Halliburton refused to supply a similar mix for testing. BP has said the cement failed.

Mark Bly, head of safety and operations for BP PLC, told the National Academy of Engineering committee that a lack of physical evidence and interviews with employees from other companies limited BP’s study. The internal team only looked at the immediate cause of the disaster.

“It is clear that you could go further into the analysis,” said Bly, who said the investigation was geared to discovering things that BP could address in the short term. “This does not represent a complete penetration into potentially deeper issues.”

Najmedin Meshkati, a professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, said he wondered why BP called its report an accident investigation when it avoided organizational flaws that could have contributed to the blast. BP has focused much of its work on decisions made on the rig, not with the managers on shore.

“How could you call this great work accident investigation … and not address human performance issues and organizational issues and decision-making issues?” Meshkati asked.


National Academy of Engineering committee into BP disaster:

Oil spill commission:

will not be displayed