With the backdrop of BP's plugged oil leak and stalled congressional action on spill legislation, experts with the National Academy of Sciences are meeting today and Friday to hear testimony about what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told the expert committee that its technical input will "help us confirm that we're on the right path in terms of addressing the root causes and systematically coming up with recommendations of how to ensure it doesn't happen again."
The committee plans to issue an interim report Oct. 31 and a final report in June. The interim report, Hayes said, would focus on the "root causes as opposed to the broader set of recommendations" that he said he hopes will be included in the committee's final report.
The committee's investigation into what caused the explosion is one of many such probes, including ones by the Coast Guard, BP and congressional committees.
Also on hand at the meeting is Michael Bromwich, director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service). He addressed the oil industry's concerns about the administration's deep-water drilling moratorium for the Gulf of Mexico.
On the heels of the third of eight public forums on the moratorium, Bromwich said his agency is focusing on three areas to decide whether the ban should be lifted before November, when it's set to expire. The areas are drilling safety, spill containment and spill response resources. The forums will last until mid-September, at which point Interior Secretary Salazar may modify the moratorium. Several experts from the American Petroleum Institute will testify this afternoon.
Gulf coast lawmakers, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and virtually all Republicans representing the region, claim the moratorium is wreaking more havoc on the economy than the spill itself. Landrieu introduced legislation last week that would lift it. Republicans, including Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, introduced similar legislation in June.
The Associated Press reported that the Justice Department asked the federal judge who overturned the administration's initial drilling ban to discard that original court challenge - put forth by oil and drilling companies - given that a different ban has now been imposed. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of Louisiana did not immediately make a decision.
This article appears in the August 14, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.