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Hearing on the Hill Focuses on Oil-Rig Contractors' Liability

Source: WSJ/Ryan Tracy

Posted on 27 Jan 2011

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Reception on Capitol Hill was sharply divided along party lines, as the chairmen of the panel that investigated last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill made their case for stronger regulation of offshore drilling.

The presidential commission's final report earlier this month identified problems with the oil industry's safety standards as well as with government oversight of drilling, giving federal agencies and Congress a list of recommendations to address those issues.

Republican lawmakers called for drilling to resume in the Gulf of Mexico and other area at two separate hearings Wednesday. Some criticized the commission for issuing its report without a full investigation of why the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer failed to stop the spill. The blowout preventer is a stack of valves designed to stop oil and natural gas erupting from a well.

The Deepwater Horizon's preventer wasn't recovered until September, and is now being examined by federal investigators. The spill commission, appointed by President Barack Obama, had a deadline to deliver a report within six months of its first meeting in July.

Other GOP lawmakers questioned the panel's neutrality and suggested the panel had an agenda to stop offshore drilling.

"The oil spill was a terrible tragedy, but it should not be used as an excuse to reduce our access to America's resources," said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Democrats defended the commission and called for stronger regulation. House Democrats introduced a bill that would implement many of the panel's recommendations, including dedicated funding for drilling regulators.

"This legislation turns the lessons of the BP oil spill into the laws that will ensure this type of disaster does not happen again in American waters," said Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee.

The commission's chairmen, William Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, said their findings should be judged on the evidence presented.

"I'm curious to know what the blowout preventer did, but I don't think it would change the findings and recommendations we have made," Mr. Graham said.

"We've done what we can do," Mr. Reilly said. "Now it's over to you."