Two of the US House's most tenacious members are leading investigations into the Apr. 20 explosion and fire at the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Anyone who has seen Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.) in this capacity knows that neither will let anyone off easily.
Stupak may have become a lame duck when he recently announced that he would not run reelection. He still chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee, however, and quickly launched an investigation with Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee's chairman.
Within a few days, they requested information from BP America Inc. Chairman and Pres. LaMar McKay, Transocean Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Steven L. Newman, and Halliburton Co. Chief Executive Officer David J. Lesar. The three are scheduled to testify before the subcommittee on May 12.
Stupak's 12 years of experience as a police officer prepare him to ask questions until he gets satisfactory answers. The witnesses should be prepared for a long session.
"BP has a long history with the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee," Stupak said on May 4. He indicated that the May 12 hearing would likely be the first of several into what went wrong on Apr. 20 and the following days in the gulf. "The answers to these questions will be vital to putting in place protections necessary to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again," he said.
Issa formally launched his inquiry as the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ranking minority member a few days after Stupak and Waxman started theirs, but he quickly signaled that it would look at allegations that the oil and gas industry unduly influenced formulation of the US Minerals Management Service's offshore oil and gas regulations.
Anyone who expects him to go easy on MMS because he's a Republican should think again. When Issa chaired the committee's Energy and Resources Subcommittee in 2005, he led demands for MMS to move more aggressively to recover federal deepwater production royalties that weren't collected in 1998-99 because price thresholds were missing. He asked then-MMS Director Johnnie Burton several strong questions when she testified on the matter.
Issa and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (D-Va.), who chaired the full committee, continued to demand answers about uncollected royalties from DOI and MMS after Democrats won control of the House in the 2006 elections. If it turns out, for example, that MMS gave BP a categorical exclusion from a full environmental impact assessment of this gulf well, Issa will ask more difficult questions.
Two Senate committees will hold back-to-back hearings on May 11. Energy and Natural Resources will consider the accident and spill's policy implications that morning. Environment and Public Works will examine economic and environmental impacts that afternoon.