Fed panel gets 60-day extension on spill report

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2010 5:24 PM
Fed panel gets 60-day extension on spill report

A federal panel investigating the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is getting 60 extra days to complete its report partly because more time is needed to do forensic testing on the piece of equipment that failed to stop BP's well from gushing into the sea.

Separately on Monday, a member of a White House-appointed commission that also is looking into the spill was critical of BP's safety record.

A key piece of evidence _ the blowout preventer _ was lifted from the ocean floor on Sept. 4 and later taken to a NASA facility in New Orleans. But the testing has been held up because of how long it has taken to develop protocols and get input from interested parties. It was still unclear whether testing had begun.

The deadline for the joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement investigative panel's report has been extended from Jan. 27 to March 27.

The panel, which aims to determine the cause of the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers and resulting oil spill and how regulation, safety and oversight can be improved, is set to hold a final public hearing the week of Jan. 24.

Three members of the separate oil spill commission told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview Monday they would be issuing a public report Nov. 8-9 in Washington that will provide a thorough accounting of what happened in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A fuller report with recommendations on how to make the industry safer is set to be released Jan. 11.

Former EPA Administrator William Reilly, co-chair of the commission, told the AP that determining whether BP or anyone else operated with negligence prior to the disaster is not the commission's job. But, he said, "It's certainly going to be clear that if one or another aspect of the rig design or rig operation failed, and there was one company that was responsible for attending to that, then implicitly it will be clear that they are to blame."

Asked whether BP has been operating any differently than other large oil companies, Reilly said there was no question.

"Given BP's history, the explosion in their refinery in Texas City just five years ago 2005, the erosion of their pipelines, and their 500,000 gallon spill in Alaska in 2006, that there is reason to conclude that prima facie that probably this is a company that is challenged by safety," Reilly said. "The industry itself believes that BP has problems that do not beset some of the other larger oil companies."

There was no immediate comment on Reilly's remarks from two BP spokesmen on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the joint investigation team refused to update the status of the testing on the blowout preventer. A recent memo from the panel to interested parties said final protocols would be submitted to the team for approval around Oct. 15.

A federal judge overseeing hundreds of lawsuits sparked by the spill wrote in a court filing earlier this month that he has been told that the forensic analysis and testing of the device would likely not be completed until February. But the Interior Department has since provided a timeline that suggested it could be done by mid-December.

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Associated Press Writer Brian Skoloff in New Orleans contributed to this report.