What’s Next For Oil ?

By Libby Casey

Oil company B-P tried today to plug the gushing spill in the Gulf of Mexico by forcing drilling mud into the well.  The “top kill” method aims to counter-act the oil pressure so B-P can seal the well-head with cement.  Meanwhile,  the Obama Administration and Congress weighed in on what’s next – and what may be ahead for Shell’s drilling plans in Alaska.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told Congress on Wednesday that the Obama Administration has top scientists and officials closely monitoring what’s going on with B-P’s latest attempt to stop the Gulf spill.

The fervent hope of everyone is that the top kill effort, that that will work.  But there is also the possibility it will not work.  And if doesn’t work, then there is Plan B to move forward with a cap on the well that hopefully will result in controlling the pollution that continues to spew out into the Gulf Coast.

Salazar and other members of the Obama Administration testified before the House Natural Resources Committee.  Dozens of Congressmen were on hand at the high-profile, six hour-long hearing, but Alaska’s committee member Representative Don Young only stayed for 40 minutes, and did not ask any questions or make any statements.  His office said he instead had “meetings with constituents.”

Other members of Congress, mostly Democrats, questioned the wisdom of going ahead with offshore drilling in the Arctic this summer.   Shell plans exploratory wells in July.  The White House has called for a temporary time-out on new projects until Secretary Salazar delivers a report to President Obama – which he plans to do tomorrow.

Salazar has stayed tight-lipped about what will happen in July,  but he hinted Wednesday that changes may be coming:

With respect to the five exploratory wells in the arctic that are under the approved exploration plans, they’re being examined, and adjustments will be made in the days or weeks ahead that will address that particular issue.

California Democratic Congressman George Miller recalled when he ran the Natural Resources Committee, back when it investigated the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  He doubts much has changed in the oil industry since then.

When you go back through the record, they were giving us the same assurances then that they’re giving us today.  You see back in 1982, they’re telling us any oil spill from a tanker in traffic in Prince William Sound is highly unlikely.  Do those words sound familiar?  Yes highly unlikely anything would go wrong on this drilling rig.  These assurances aren’t worth spit.

Members of Congress also lobbed criticisms at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which has been under increasing scrutiny – and was the subject of an Inspector General report this week showing M-M-S inspectors in a Louisiana office were overly close to oil officials, accepted gifts, and breached ethical standards.  Salazar says, however, that he’s been combating that culture.

I will remind this committee and the United States when you read that report, they all refer to a time period that predated this administration.  It was focused in on a time when there was a relationship with the oil and gas world where essentially whatever it is they wanted it is what they got.  That day ended when I came in as Secretary of Interior.  We have turned the ship, and we have been making progress.  Progress which has frankly come at the criticism of some members of this committee and others.

Salazar says he’s ordered the Inspector General to look into whether ethical lapses have continued during the Obama Administration.  The department says it has put any employees in the report on leave, and is deciding what disciplinary action to take.

Liberal Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey also pointed fingers at the legacy left by the Bush Administration:

MMS used to stand for Minerals Management Service, it now stands for “misconduct, mismanagement, spills.”  There are some who would like to say it’s the fault of the Obama Administration.  But after eight years of supporting the Bush-Cheney Administration’s deregulation of the oil and gas industry and its lax administration over industry some, are now shocked at the gambling with our environment going on in the oil and gas industry’s offshore casino.

Even pro-development members of Congress, like West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, say the ground-rules may have changed for offshore drilling in America.

You know on the surface it appears this Deepwater Horizon disaster has been a game-changer as far as how we manage our offshore energy resources for the American people.  It also appears with the latest IG report in which you have alleged improprieties of MMS personnel, that this report has put MMS in the penalty box indefinitely.

Exactly what will change may be more evident later this week, when Secretary Salazar delivers his report to President Obama.


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