This photo from the response unified command is a sonar scan of the Deepwater Horizon on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

House Energy Panel Turns Up the Heat

Oil from the offshore well reached Louisiana coastal areas today. Calling a hearing for May 12, the Energy and Commerce Committee's chairman asked the leaders of BP America Inc., Transocean Ltd., and Halliburton Co. to testify.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's top Democrats barged into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case on Friday by announcing a May 12 hearing and asking the leaders of three companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico well to attend and testify. Chairman Henry Waxman and Rep. Bart Stupak, who chairs Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, also sent a letter to one of the three, David J. Lesar, chairman/president/CEO of Halliburton Co., to brief the committee May 5 about cementing work his company was doing on the well and to provide all documents by May 7 about the cementing, the explosion, and the possibility of an explosion on the platform. Their letter stemmed from a Wall Street Journal article April 30 suggesting the explosion on April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon could have resulted from cementing work done by the company.

Their letter also asked Lesar to preserve all documents relating to Halliburton’s work on the Deepwater Horizon and involvement with the project for possible production at a later time.

Top federal officials from Interior, DHS, and EPA visited the oil spill zone along the Louisiana coast Friday as efforts mounted to contain the damage onshore. Secretaries Ken Salazar, Janet Napolitano, and Lisa Jackson made an aerial tour a day after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and asked the Department of Defense to send as many as 6,000 active-duty troops to aid in the cleanup. At least 10 state and national wildlife management areas and wildlife refuges in Louisiana and Mississippi are in the path of the oil plume coming from the well a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico because of leaks caused by the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform last week, according to Jindal's declaration, which listed the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf Islands National Seashore National Park among them.

"We are doing absolutely everything in our power to eliminate the source of the leak and contain the environmental impact of the spill. We are determined to fight this spill on all fronts, in the deep waters of the Gulf, in the shallow waters and, should it be necessary, on the shore," said BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward. "In the past few days I have seen the full extent of BP's global resources and capability being brought to bear on this problem and welcome the offers of further assistance we have had from government agencies, oil companies, and members of the public to defend the shoreline and fight this spill. We are determined to succeed."

BP now estimates 5,000 barrels of oil per day are spilling from the well, which is five times higher than the initial estimate last week. The drilling of a relief well will take 60 to 90 days, company officials say.

The U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing May 6 about offshore oil and gas drilling and the Deepwater Horizon incident, with Salazar the only witness scheduled thus far. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had called for a hearing and strongly endorsed continued offshore drilling in a floor speech April 29. "Everyone agrees this accident was and is an unmitigated disaster," Landrieu said in the speech, according to the text posted on her official Web site. "I know the hearts and prayers of everyone in the United States are with the families that lost their lives, those that are injured, and we continue to pray for them as they recover. But the issue for us is to acknowledge this, to understand it, and to make decisions about how to move forward." She then noted 97 percent of the oil slick "is an extremely thin sheen of relatively light oil" on the surface. "For advocates that say we can't afford to drill off of our coast, then what coast should we drill off of? Should we have all of our oil coming 100 percent from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Honduras or West Africa? We have to take responsibility to drill where we can safely, out away from our shores, and be as safe as we can be. We obviously have to improve our technology, and that we will. Retreat, we won't," she said.

The Department of Interior is sending teams to inspect all Gulf of Mexico platforms and rigs, and EPA is conducting air monitoring activities to gather information on the impact on air quality of earlier controlled burns of some of the oil, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Friday.

BP and the other owners of the drilling lease are spending about $6 million per day on the response, a figure that "is expected to rise as activity increases," according to BP, which added, "It is too early to quantify other potential costs and liabilities associated with the incident."

The Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service on April 28 announced that it has cancelled the 2010 Annual Industry SAFE Awards Luncheon scheduled for May 3 at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston because MMS personnel are busy responding to the spill.

The semisubmersible drilling platform sank two days after an explosion and fire at 10 p.m. April 20, when 126 workers were on the rig. Eleven who have not been found are presumed to have died in the incident.

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