Washington, D.C.– As a new story in The Hill newspaper lays out, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva has been leading the push in Congress for nearly a year to get information about a large oil platform suspected of operating without proper permitting or engineering documents. The Atlantis platform owned by BP – the same company that leased the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and flooded the Gulf of Mexico with leaking oil – came under scrutiny when a former rig worker claimed the company was not following multiple safety and certification regulations. Recently available evidence suggests that many of the whistleblower’s claims have merit.
The text of the story follows. For more information, please visit Rep. Grijalva’s oversight and investigations Web page.
Fearing second Gulf spill, House Dems press Interior to finish probe of platform
By Darren Goode – 11/23/10 09:00 AM ET
House Democrats are pressing the Interior Department to complete a probe of BP’s massive Atlantis oil-and-gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico — an operation some fear is vulnerable to an accident rivaling BP’s oil spill last summer.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is the point person for a broader Democratic effort to force the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to quickly wrap up its investigation over whether BP illegally ran the Atlantis platform.
Grijalva — a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee — and his fellow Democrats suspect BP did not get proper sign-off before starting up the Atlantis platform in the Gulf in 2007. The Atlantis is the largest oil and gas platform in the world and is in deeper waters than BP’s ill-fated Macondo well that sparked this summer’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“The suspicion is the inspections weren’t done, so as a consequence … it operated without any jurisdiction or any approval, i.e. illegal,” Grijalva told The Hill last week.
Grijalva is pressing BOEMRE to finish its probe after what he has deemed unsatisfactory responses so far from the agency and BP.
“Do we wait for the final report or do we insist on something now?” he said. There is “not much pro” to waiting for BOEMRE to act without pushing them further, Grijalva said.
A BOEMRE spokesman declined to comment, citing the continuing investigation.
BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich — in a Nov. 3 letter to Grijalva — said “new information came to light” when the agency’s investigation was being finalized that requires additional probing. “It is critical that this investigation be thorough and comprehensive,” Bromwich wrote, without detailing what new information was discovered. He said a final report would come “when the investigation concludes.” He did not offer a more precise timeline.
Bromwich had promised in September the investigation would be completed in October.
The concern is that the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig “could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis,” 26 House Democrats noted in a May 19 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and then-Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum.
But the probe by Democrats into the matter preceded the deadly Deepwater Horizon accident.
Grijalva in February this year led a group of House Democrats — including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is expected to be ranking member of the Natural Resources panel in the next Congress — in asking Birnbaum to do an investigation.
Birnbaum has since resigned and MMS was dissolved and restructured into BOEMRE.
The investigation into the Atlantis rig took a back seat during this summer’s Gulf spill. That disaster is still under federal investigation, as well as investigation by a separate bipartisan commission appointed by President Obama.
“The bottom line is that we requested this investigation in February, before the Horizon spill, and not only have they still not finished their report, they’ve started deciding what we do and don’t get to review in the meantime,” a Grijalva aide said.
The House Democrats called for an investigation after a whistleblower informed MMS in March 2009 and the Natural Resources panel later that BP officials did not have engineer-approved and up-to-date documents for the platform. Industry standards and federal regulations require BP to have these documents before they can start production on any oil-and-gas platform. This includes so-called “as-built” drawings that are a guide to how platform components work.
BP provided to BOEMRE a response dated in August this year stating that “the design of this structure has been certified” and that the “certified design and as-built plans and specifications will be on file” at BP’s offices in Houston.
Grijalva and the other House Democrats are still seeking evidence that BP had the structure of the platform certified in 2007 before production began.
BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said MMS received independent, third-party verification in 2003 that Atlantis was constructed in accordance with its engineer-approved design before its 2007 start-up. “BP effectively repeated that verification” in the Aug. 9 letter sent to Bromwich, Beaudo said.
Beaudo referred The Hill to BOEMRE for specific documentation, citing the ongoing investigation.
The company for months has denied allegations from Food & Water Watch — a group the BP whistleblower, Ken Abbott, went to with his allegations. In a statement the company has used since Abbott’s allegations surfaced last year, BP said it has “found no evidence to substantiate the organization’s claims.” The company “has complied with” federal regulations and has provided documentation as requested by the federal officials.
The Atlantis production site began in October 2007 “and has safely produced more than 50 million barrels of oil,” according to the company’s statement, and was “successfully maintained” through two major hurricanes in 2008. “Its safety, operations and performance record is excellent,” according to the statement.
Bromwich — in a September letter to Grijalva — said it is not necessary for BOEMRE to provide a database and drawing log for t