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8 probes into Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill

Monday, May 17, 2010; A14

The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the massive oil spill that has stemmed from the accident have prompted eight formal investigations so far, and more could be coming. They address two basic questions: What went wrong with BP's drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico, and what can be done to prevent a similar disaster? Legislative and regulatory reforms are sure to follow these probes, and their findings will become part of the legal fight over who bears responsibility.

Probe: Marine Board of Investigation.

Who's in charge: Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service.

Focus: To identify the factors leading to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit.

Powers: Ability to subpoena, call witnesses.

* * *

Probe: Interior Department Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board.

Who's in charge: Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis, Interior Inspector General Mary Kendall and Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh.

Focus: Safety rules and oversight for offshore drilling.

Powers: No subpoena power, but according to an Interior aide, the board "is able to get whatever documents they will need to complete their investigation."

* * *

Probe: National Academy of Engineering.

Focus: Analysis and technical assessment of the cause of the accident.

Who's in charge: An independently appointed group of unpaid academy members from around the world.

Powers: No compulsory powers.

* * *

Probe: House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Who's in charge: The panel's chairman, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), along with two subcommittee chairmen, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Focus: The cause of the accident, the extent and impact of the oil spill, and the response to it.

Powers: Ability to subpoena if the chairman and ranking member agree, or by majority vote if they disagree, and call witnesses.

* * *Probe: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Who's in charge: The committee's chairman, Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.).

Focus: Potential lapses in oversight by the Minerals Management Service in the years leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and what Towns has called " 'revolving door' issues, conflicts of interest within MMS and MMS's apparent lack of oversight of offshore oil rigs."

Powers: Chairman can issue subpoenas unilaterally and call witnesses

Probe: House Natural Resources Committee.

Who's in charge: The committee's chairman, Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.).

Focus: Problems in how the Minerals Management Service exercised oversight over offshore oil drilling

Powers: Ability to subpoena by majority vote (the chairman can issue subpoenas unilaterally any time the House is in recess for three days) and call witnesses.

* * *Probe: Interior's review of how the Minerals Management Service conducted its procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Who's in charge: To be determined.

Powers: To be determined.

* * *

Probe: Internal BP investigation.

Who's in charge: BP head of safety and operations Mark Bly, who runs an independent unit that is separate from the business lines and reports directly to BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

Focus: The cause of the explosion at Deepwater Horizon and the failure of the blowout preventer.

Powers: BP employees are obligated to speak to Bly and his fellow investigators.

* * *

Potential probe: An independent commission established by the president through executive order.

Who's pushing for this: Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and more than two dozen other House and Senate members.

Who's in charge: Not the Minerals Management Service, since any current or former MMS employee or contractor would be barred from participating. It would include the designee of a governor from a coastal state, as well as the designee of a governor from a state directly affected by the spill.

The White House's current position: "We will review Congresswoman Capps's proposal and others to establish a presidential commission," said White House spokesman Ben LaBolt. "As part of our ongoing efforts to review the cause of the spill -- and to prevent future incidents like this -- the administration has conducted safety and regulatory reviews across the board. . . . The president is determined to prevent this incident from recurring, and we are moving swiftly to identify its cause and to put in place the necessary safeguards."

-- Juliet Eilperin

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