Hearings Gush in Washington as Oil Spill Tar Balls Hit Florida

President joins government search for answers in Gulf oil spill

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Federal hearings into the Gulf oil spill are positively gushing in Washington D.C., and now President Obama is jumping directly into the fray with a presidential commission to investigate government and industry failures.

Did the Minerals Management Service simply take British Petroleum’s word that drilling was safe in deep offshore waters? At today’s Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the question was bluntly put to Interior Sec. Ken Salazar.> 

At yesterday’s congressional hearing, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano conceded that the federal government hasn’t the expertise or background to deal with deep-water drilling scenarious, adding to a growing body of evidence that government agencies have been overly dependent on oil industry guidance and expertise.

As we’ve noted a number of times since the spill watch began last April 20, the government seems to have been played like a fiddle by BP and the rest of the oil industry when it comes to approving and overseeing offshore oil drilling operations. The Gulf spill finally woke up the Obama administration, which is moving ahead with plans to radically reorganize the conflict-ridden Minerals Management Service.

Meanwhile, BP says it is sucking up about half of the 5,000 gallons flowing from the ruptured well daily—but like the government we have to take their word for that, as BP is still calling the official shots when it comes to providing information on the spill.

What we don’t have to depend on BP for is evidence of the spill’s slowly developing environmental impacts. Tar balls are beginning to show up on Florida’s coastline, 10-mile long undersea oil plumes have been detected in spawning and migration areas of various fish and other species, the gulf coast fishing industry is in shambles, and the Gulf stream loop current could at any moment start taking the oil on a ride around Florida and up the East Coast.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.