Lawmakers have stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to halt oil production at the BP-operated Atlantis platform, out of fears a blowout there could dwarf the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Minerals Management Services Director Elizabeth Birnbaum, more than two dozen lawmakers called for an immediate halt to production at the Atlantis while the platform’s design and safety is investigated.
Lawmakers are worried about the safety of BP’s Atlantis platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
The effort was spearheaded by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who said in an interview today that “the suspension of operations, now, is the prudent thing to do” to allow time for federal regulators to investigate whistle-blower allegations that much of the subsea design was unapproved by professional engineers.
Otherwise, Grijalva warned, the U.S. risks “a catastrophe of proportions 10 times the Deepwater Horizon.”
The Atlantis platform is pumping as much as 200,000 barrels of oil daily from what BP has called “the deepest moored floating oil and gas production facility in the world.”
Operating about 124 miles offshore in 7,000 feet of water, the Atlantis pumps crude from territory far deeper than the destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig, which was drilling an exploratory well about 5,000 feet below the surface.
The congressional effort dovetails with action in federal court; one of BP’s former safety consultants on Monday asked a federal judge to order the company to halt production at the well, because of concerns that federal regulators haven’t investigated potential dangers there.
In a statement, BP said that it has “thoroughly investigated” the claims about incomplete engineering documents and “found them to be without substance.” Platform operators have “full access to the accurate, up-to-date drawings . . . necessary to operate the platform safely.”
BP’s assertions haven’t satisfied the lawmakers, who told Salazar and Birnbaum that they are “very concerned that the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis.”
Grijalva said he hadn’t heard back from the Interior Department or MMS. But, he added, “we have been called by BP lobbyists.”
One argument against a time-out is that the Atlantis is delivering large volumes of crude. But Grijalva said he is only pursuing a temporary pause — until investigators can attest the platform and well operate safely. “It’s a prudent step; It’s not an extreme step,” he said. “We cannot afford another one of these” disasters.
A copy of the letter is available after the jump.