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Obama forms oil spill panel
US president unveils new commission to investigate Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Last Modified: 22 May 2010 15:58 GMT

Obama made his first reference to the possibility of a separate criminal probe into the disaster [AFP]

Barack Obama, the US president, has formed an independent presidential commission to probe the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Two-term Florida governor and former senator Bob Graham, a  Democrat, and former administrator of the Environmental Protection  Agency William Reilly, a Republican, will serve as co-chairmen of  the seven-member body, Obama said on Saturday.

The main task of the bipartisan body, formed by an executive order, is to provide recommendations on how the oil industry can  prevent - and mitigate the impact of - any future spills that result from offshore drilling.

"Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address," Obama said in his weekly radio address as he announced the formation of the commission.

Jay Gray, a correspondent for NBC reporting from Louisiana, told Al Jazeera: " It's been 32 days since the well exploded and oil is still flowing into the Gulf. People here are very worried and very concerned that no one can stop the gushing oil.

'Environmental disaster'

"But the question is what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again," Gray said.

Obama said he will appoint the remaining five members of the panel in coming days. It will include scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates, but no sitting government employees or elected officials.

in depth

"The commission shall ensure that it does not interfere with or disrupt any ongoing or anticipated civil or criminal investigation or law enforcement activities or any effort to recover response costs or damages arising out of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and oil spill," the president's executive order stated.

The oil spill, which Obama described as an environmental disaster, began on April 20 when British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing at least 11 workers and rupturing an underwater pipe.

Since then, at least 800,000 litres of oil a day have been spewing into the Gulf, threatening beaches, marshes, fisheries and wildlife along the coast.

Obama said his administration had deployed over 1,100 vessels,  about 24,000 personnel and more than two million feet of protective boom to help contain the spill.

'Not enough'

A month after the explosion, residents, elected officials and environmental groups remain frustrated with BP’s failure to cap the well and have called for the government to take charge.

The government is signing off on the company's efforts to cap the pipe, but David Vitter, a republican senator, said more needs to be done.

Vitter, who represents Louisiana, said many Louisianians are frustrated that democrats who run congress have been holding hearings while the uncapped well continues to sully Gulf Coast waters.

"The time for committee hearings is for after the well has been capped, not before,'' he said in the weekly Republican message.

Vitter said the focus should be on stopping the oil flow and protecting the coastline and that coastal communities also are in desperate need of more containment booms, the barriers designed to stop oil from reaching the coast.

Vitter also promoted a bill that would raise the limit on a company's liability for an oil spill and direct work on technologies that can be used to cap similar oil leaks deep underwater.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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