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Bill Nelson steps up calls for oil spill investigations

The Florida Democrat today is asking the Interior Department’s inspector general to determine whether the oil and gas industry exerted influence over regulators when, his office says, oil companies "basically were allowed to select back-up systems to prevent a blowout."

Nelson's office says deepwater drilling rigs have emergency shut off valves called BOPs, or blowout prevention
devices. But, he says the Deepwater Horizon rig didn’t have an acoustic backup switch to trigger the device in the event of an accident. His office says according to the Wall Street Journal, regulators learned six years ago that some of industry’s well-capping equipment may not even function in a deep-water environment. 

"I ask that you determine in your investigation the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence in the agency’s rulemaking process," Nelson said in a letter to acting IG Mary Kendall.

Nelson last week called on the White House to chill plans to expand drilling. Letter below the jump.

Dear Inspector General Kendall:

"In the wake of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, questions have arisen over Mineral Management Service (MMS) regulations regarding reliable back-up systems to cap underwater wells. 

"More specifically, MMS allowed oil rigs not to have audio control devices capable of remotely activating a wellhead’s blowout preventer.  At least two other major countries that permit offshore drilling require rigs to carry such devices. Also, newly published accounts indicate regulators didn’t act on other concerns that oil-drilling safety equipment may not function in a deep-water environment.

"In light of the recent events, I am asking you to review the process by which MMS reviewed and finalized 30 CFR §250.515 and all other regulations relevant to blowout preventers and well controls. I ask that you determine in your investigation the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence in the agency’s rulemaking process.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.  If you have any questions, please contact Susie
Perez Quinn in my office at (202) 224-5274.

Sincerely,

Bill Nelson 

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