NEW ORLEANS, May 11 (UPI) -- Two protesters disrupted the opening of hearings in Kenner, La., Tuesday into what caused an oil rig to explode and sink, spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The investigative panel of three U.S. Coast Guard representatives and three federal Minerals Management Service officials is looking into what happened, to assign fault and to commend people who responded to the accident in which 11 rig workers died, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported. The damaged rig has been spewing oil into the gulf since April 20 and the resulting slick is threatening the environment and economies of Gulf Coast states.
"Materials Management should not be entrusted with the investigation of an enormous tragedy it helped to create," one protester shouted. He was holding a sign reading, "This System is NOT fit to be the Caretaker of the Planet."
As he was escorted out of the hearing, a woman shouted, "Stop offshore drilling now. This hearing is not legitimate."
Separately, University of California-Berkley engineering Professor Robert Bea has been gathering statements, transcripts and other communications since the accident to try to piece together the cause of the region's environmental disaster, The Times-Picayune reported.
"As the job unfolded ... the workers did have intermittent trouble with pockets of natural gas," a statement sent to Bea read. "Highly flammable, the gas was forcing its way up the drill pipes. This was something BP had not foreseen as a serious problem, declaring a year earlier that gas was likely to pose only a 'negligible' risk. The government warned the company that gas buildup was a real concern and that BP should 'exercise caution.'"
Bea is known in the region as a co-leader of an independent team of scientists that conducted a forensic investigation of the causes of levee and floodwall failures during Hurricane Katrina.
Bea said the statements support an article by The Times-Picayune about questionable choices made by BP, rig owner Transocean and others to remove drilling mud that supposedly would help tamp down destructive gas kicks.
Texas officials, meanwhile, said it seems inevitable that the oil residue will reach Texas water, probably in the form of tar balls or a frothy substance, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported.
Officials with the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program said they were preparing for what they call a "tar ball event," possibly within the next two to three weeks.