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Graham, Reilly to lead investigation of oil spill

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2010

President Obama will appoint former Florida senator Bob Graham (D) and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator William K. Reilly to head an independent probe of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, sources familiar with the decision said Friday night.

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The commission, which Obama will outline Saturday during his weekly radio address, will examine issues from causes of last month's spill -- started when an offshore drilling rig exploded April 20 and then sank -- to federal oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling and the potential risks of such energy exploration.

Both men are known for their strong environmental credentials. Reilly headed the EPA under President George H.W. Bush and now serves as chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund, while Graham pushed for restoration of Florida's Everglades during his three terms in the Senate.

The commission, modeled on ones which investigated the Challenger shuttle explosion and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, will not include any federal officials, administration officials said this week.

News of the appointments came late in a day when a senior official of the BP oil company said that it was siphoning far less oil from the Gulf of Mexico than other officials had said a day earlier, while Louisiana officials gave voice to rising frustration over the pace of the cleanup operation.

Doug Suttles, the oil company's chief operating officer, said that a tube inserted into a leaking pipe on the sea floor had captured 2,200 barrels of oil and 15 million cubic feet of natural gas in 24 hours. BP said Thursday that it was collecting 5,000 barrels a day, but Suttles said that rate was achieved only for short periods of time. He added that surges of gas meant that the mile-long tube, which is connected to a ship, was at times bringing up no oil.

"We've never said it produced 5,000 barrels a day. . . . I apologize if for some reason you've heard it that way," Suttles said. "Yes, at some points in time, we've had rates as high as 5,000, but the average in the last day was 2,200."

At a command center in Robert, La., Suttles said that the next effort to stop the oil spill -- a "dynamic kill," in which high-pressure mud is used to plug the hole in the sea floor -- was not likely to come until Tuesday.

Work to disperse and burn the oil offshore was making "good progress," Suttles said. Closer to the coast, he said, "Our near-shore activities were also quite successful yesterday. . . . We're quite fortunate; we have only had oil show up on seven locations onshore."

But the mood was bleaker close to the coast. At a news conference in Chauvin, La., Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) noted that thick, sludgy oil was now broaching some of his state's marshes and beaches, and said he was beginning an emergency effort to build large sand islands to protect inland marshes.

"We're not going to wait any longer. We cannot wait any longer," Jindal said. The U.S. government has not yet responded to a Louisiana plan to build a larger string of barrier islands along the state's coast.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Edwin M. Stanton -- who oversees the New Orleans area -- admitted in Chauvin that he had not pushed BP hard enough, and that the oil company had moved too slowly in bringing floating "containment boom" to areas threatened by oil.

Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.



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