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Dem Senators Urge AG Holder to Open Civil and Criminal Investigations into BP Oil Spill

Posted on 19 May 2010

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Eight senators are urging Attorney General Eric Holder to open a formal investigation into potential violations of civil and criminal laws related to issues surrounding the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The eight consist of seven Democrats and one left-leaning independent, and all are members of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

They wrote Holder Monday, asking the nation’s top law enforcement official to probe whether BP “made false and misleading statements to the federal government regarding its ability to respond to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.”

As much as 100,000 barrels of crude a day are leaking into the waters off the Louisiana coast as the result of a deadly explosion last month on an offshore drilling platform called Deepwater Horizon and leased by BP, which is the fourth-largest corporation on the planet.

In their letter to Holder, the senators cite the EPW panel’s oversight into the massive spill, which is likely to be larger even than the 1989 ExxonValdez disaster off the coast of Alaska.

The senators quote a document titled “Initial Exploration Plan Mississippi Canyon Block 252,” which they say was prepared for and submitted to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and dated Feb. 23, 2009. Part of the Interior Department, MMS is the federal agency that oversees oil and gas drilling in offshore waters. In that document, the senators say, BP evaluated the potential environmental impacts and the ability to respond to a blowout resulting from an oil spill.

Specifically, in describing impacts of its proposed oil and gas exploration activities on Essential Fish Habitat, BP stated:

“In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses, implementation of BP’s Regional Oil Spill Response Plan which address available equipment and personnel, techniques for containment and recovery and removal of the oil spill.”

That statement now appears bogus, according to the letter to Holder, signed by EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

“In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it does not in any way appear that there was ‘proven equipment and technology’ to respond to the spill, which could have tragic consequences for local economies and the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the response and implementation of spill control technologies appears to be taking place on an ad hoc basis,” their letter says.

In fact, the senators say, BP released a statement on May 10 of this year that stated:

“All of the techniques being attempted or evaluated to contain the flow of oil on the seabed involve significant uncertainties because they have not been tested in these conditions before.”

Given these inconsistencies, the senators ask Holder to investigate false statements and “any federal law or regulation that may have been violated in connection with issues surrounding the spill.”

Prior to the senators’ letter, Holder had dispatched a team of attorneys from multiple divisions within the Justice Department to begin looking into the BP spill. That team is led by Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division.