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Grijalva Calls For Investigation of Oil Drilling Safety Records as Whistleblower Suggests BP Is Operating Illegally

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today announced that he and other lawmakers have asked the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to thoroughly investigate whether energy conglomerate BP is operating its Atlantis offshore oil platform – the largest in the world – without professionally approved safety documents, and to report its findings to Congress. The platform, located in the Gulf of Mexico, could be the victim of “catastrophic operator errors” if the documents are inaccurate or incomplete, according to BP internal communications.

In a Feb. 24 letter, Grijalva and 18 other House Democrats say MMS, which regulates offshore drilling practices, has not done enough so far to ensure worker and environmental safety at the site, in part because it has interpreted the relevant laws too loosely. “[C]ommunications between MMS and congressional staff have suggested that while the company by law must maintain ‘as-built’ documents, there is no requirement that such documents be complete or accurate,” the letter reads. “This statement, if an accurate interpretation of MMS authorities, raises serious concerns.”

Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, said the issue requires “a thorough review at the agency level, the legal level and the corporate level. The world’s largest oil rig cannot continue to operate without safety documentation. The situation is unacceptable and deserves immediate scrutiny.”

A whistleblower brought the matter to MMS’ attention in March of 2009, but the letter says the agency has done little to respond so far. “Making sure that these standards are adhered to will take on added importance as the nation sets its sights on a national agenda of energy independence,” the letter reads. The letter requests an MMS investigation of Atlantis’ safety documentation and a report to Congress “as soon as possible,” adding, “We also request that MMS describe how a regulation that requires offshore operators to maintain certain engineering documents, but does not require that those documents be complete or accurate, is appropriately protective of human health and the environment.”

Grijalva said a long record of previous oil spills highlights the need for continued environmental safeguards, however sophisticated drilling technology becomes. “From the Exxon Valdez spill to last year’s catastrophe in the Timor Sea, we have more vivid evidence than we should ever need that safety cannot be ignored by the oil industry,” he said. “I look forward to working with MMS promptly to resolve any doubts about Atlantis, because we cannot afford another billion-gallon spill on our watch.”