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US commission to probe oil spill
Panel to investigate BP disaster and review industry practices and government oversight.
Last Modified: 18 May 2010 01:23 GMT
Obama criticised the government drilling regulator for being too 'cosy' with oil companies [AFP]

The US is to set up a presidential commission to investigate the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and study industry practices and the role of government oversight.

The panel will be established after Barack Obama, the US president, signs an executive order, and a formal announcement is expected later this week, an Obama administration official said.

Similar commissions were set up to look into the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979.

The panel will probe issues related to the spill and its aftermath, including rig safety and regulatory procedures on the local, state and federal levels, the official said, requesting anonymity.

Serving government employees and elected officials will not be eligible to sit on the panel.

The federal government's oversight role, environmental protections, and the "structure and functions" of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the US interior department agency that monitors offshore drilling, have come under fire following the April 20 incident at the BP rig.

in depth

Chris Oynes, the head of the MMS, announced on Monday that he will retire at the end of the month after 35 years of service.

Oynes' retirement comes amid scathing criticism of the MMS for being too lax on enforcement of safety standards.

Obama criticised the MMS last week, saying that "for too long, for a decade or more, there's been a cosy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill".

The US administration said the leasing and regulatory functions of the MMS will be broken up into separate entities.

Clean up

BP estimates around 8,000 litres of oil a day has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on 20 April.

On Monday BP said about 20 per cent of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is being sucked up by its insertion tube system.

The energy giant also said it was gearing up for an operation called a "top kill" to inject tonnes of heavy drilling "mud" into the well to staunch the flow before permanently sealing it with cement.

"Our next effort to try to stop the flow will occur later this week or early in the weekend coming up and it's the top kill procedure," Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said.

"We intend to fill up the bottom portion of this well with cement. If that's successful we would be bringing this incident to a close."

Source:
Agencies
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