US allowed drilling without required permits, court filing states
WASHINGTON — A visibly angered President Barack Obama hit out at oil companies Friday for trying to avoid blame over a massive slick, and vowed an all-out effort to stop the leak pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
“I will not tolerate more finger-pointing or irresponsibility. The people of the Gulf Coast need our help,” Obama said, as he also unveiled a review of the environmental safeguards to be put in place for oil and gas exploration.
He slammed the three oil companies linked to the Deepwater Horizon rig for seeking to pass the blame, denouncing what he called a “ridiculous spectacle” by their top officials during congressional hearings.
And he also accused oil companies of enjoying a “cozy relationship” with federal agencies set up to monitor the energy sector.
In testifying before US lawmakers this week, top executives from the two companies, as well as oil services supplier Halliburton, which carried out some vital cement work, traded accusations as to who was to blame for the accident.
“I understand that there are legal and financial issues involved, and a full investigation will tell us exactly what happened,” Obama said.
“But it is pretty clear that the system failed and it failed badly. For that, there’s enough responsibility to go around.
“For too long, for a decade or more, there’s been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.”
Obama said he shared the “anger and frustration” of Gulf Coast residents that more than three weeks after the rig was crippled by an explosion on April 20, the oil is still spewing unchecked into the seas.
“I’m not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods,” he vowed.
Earlier this week the president dispatched a team of top officials — including Nobel-winning scientist Energy Secretary Steven Chu — to BP’s command center in Houston, Texas, to discuss efforts to contain the leak.
“What really matters is this, there’s oil leaking and we need to stop it, we need to stop it as soon as possible,” Obama said Friday in his statement in the Rose Garden.
Obama met with top advisors Friday to determine the “next steps” in dealing with a massive oil slick as BP struggled with its latest attempt to contain the leak.
Crews from the British firm were trying to position an “insertion tube” to funnel leaking oil up to a container vessel, as the company warned there would not be an opportunity to try to cap the flow altogether until late next week.
Scientists who analyzed how far and fast oil particles are moving in a video of the leak released by BP told US media the well was actually spewing closer to 70,000 barrels (2.9 million gallons) a day, with an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 20 percent.
The findings suggest the spill is already the worst environmental disaster in US history, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. BP disputes the figures.
Related: US allowed drilling without required permits, court filing states
A troubled US government agency tasked with managing oil exploration allowed BP and other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first obtaining required permits, a complaint said.
The approvals by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) included greenlighting the well drilled by the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers before burning, sinking and spewing a sea of crude into the gulf, The New York Times reported, citing federal records.
Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the minerals agency is required to obtain permits before allowing drilling to go ahead in areas where the oil exploration could harm endangered species or marine mammals.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed notice of intent Friday to sue the agency over its non-compliance with the laws, the Department of Interior has approved over 300 drilling operations, three large lease sales and over 100 seismic surveys without the required permits.
“Under (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar’s watch, the Department of the Interior has treated the Gulf of Mexico as a sacrifice area where laws are ignored and wildlife protection takes a backseat to oil-company profits,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the environmental advocacy group.
The 60-day notice of intent to sue Salazar and the MMS is a legally required precursor to filing a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Department of the Interior is well aware of its obligations under the law, as well of the harm to endangered whales that can occur from oil industry operations, yet it has simply decided it cannot be bothered,” Sakashita said in a statement.
“You and I have to follow the law, but Interior Secretary Salazar seems to think that he and the oil companies he is supposedly overseeing do not. That is unacceptable.”