HS&E workers place oil containment boom on low areas of the beach in Fourchon, Louisiana, May 14, 2010. The boom is place in the low areas to prevent oil from getting into the nearby marsh when water from the ocean flows into it when sea levels are at their highest levels. UPI/Patrick Kelley/U.S. Coast Guard | License Photo
NEW ORLEANS, May 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama planned to appoint a White House commission to look into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, an administration official said Monday.
In addition, eight Democratic members of the U.S. Senate asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to initiative a criminal investigation into the spill, which began with an explosion April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig owned and operated by British oil producer BP, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.
The White House commission would be similar to one created by former President Ronald Reagan to investigate the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, an administration official told the newspaper.
In a letter to Holder, eight Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee urged the attorney general to "review this matter with respect to civil and criminal laws related to false statements to the federal government," as well as "any federal law or regulation that may have been violated."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said during a hearing of the committee Monday he didn't see "how our government can allow any new deep-water wells to be permitted and drilled" until steps are taken to prevent the kind of blowout prevention failure that resulted in the gulf spill, the Times-Picayune reported.
Earlier Monday, BP said an emergency tube inserted to collect oil leaking from the damaged wellhead was still letting 80 percent of the oil escape but was collecting about 1,000 barrels of oil per day. The collected oil was being stored on the drillship Discoverer Enterprise and associated gas was being burned off, BP said on its Web site.
"It is expected that it will take some time to increase the flow through the system and maximize the proportion of oil and gas flowing through the broken riser that will be captured and transported to the drillship," the BP statement said.
"This remains a new technology and both its continued operation and its effectiveness in capturing the oil and gas remains uncertain. Other containment options continue to be progressed."
The alternatives include trying to shut off the flow of oil from the well through interventions via its failed blowout preventer, a so-called top-kill operation that would involve injecting heavy drilling fluids into the well and a "junk shot" that would use a variety of materials to plug the leak.
"Plans for deployment of these options are being progressed with the possibility of deployment in the next week or so," BP said on its Web site.
Work on two relief wells also continues.
BP faces not only the challenge of the oil spill, it is getting hammered by lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages, lawyers say.
The Washington Post reports at least 88 suits have been filed, and more can be expected. Not only BP, but Transocean, oil services firm Halliburton and Cameron, the maker of the operation's failed blowout preventer, are liable, lawyers allege. The federal government could also face suits for alleged lack of oversight of offshore drilling.
The lawyers involved with the class action suits are high-profile names in the legal world who have won multimillion-dollar awards for their clients from huge corporations like BP. One of them is Stuart Smith, a New Orleans lawyer representing fishermen, hotels and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who has won big cases against Exxon and Chevron, the Post reported.
"If this well keeps leaking for three or four months, it's Katie bar the door. I don't think they have enough money," Smith said.
It remains to be seen where the suits will be tried.