NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s Republican U.S. senator blasted oil giant BP PLC on Tuesday for what he called its attempt to run from its full cleanup responsibilities for the nation’s worst offshore spill, the 2010 disaster that left the Gulf Coast heavily oiled.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter also charged during a field briefing in New Orleans that the Coast Guard had “too cozy” a relationship with the energy company. He spoke during a briefing of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, a Senate body that oversees environmental issues.
When Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana’s coast in late August, the storm’s waves exposed sections of buried oil along Louisiana’s coast and also stirred up debate about how much oil remains.
It’s uncertain how much oil from the April 2010 spill remains in the Gulf environment, but scientists say some is trapped under sand, some is on the Gulf’s seafloor and some is stuck in marshy areas hard to clean up.
The spill resulted from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and left BP unable to control its well for nearly three months. More than 200 million gallons of oil leaked out of the well, according to government estimates. The vast majority of that oil was dispersed, evaporated or got cleaned up.
Still, some oil remains and Isaac made that clear. After Isaac, BP ramped up its cleanup operations, saying the storm helped reveal where buried oil was.
Vitter, who is a member of the Senate committee, expressed frustration that more is not being done to clean up Louisiana’s coast. He and other Louisiana officials contend the Coast Guard has allowed BP to wind down cleanup operations prematurely. About 200 miles of Louisiana’s coast remain under active cleanup.
“I think BP is actively trying to run away from its full clean-up responsibilities,” the senator said.
Vitter also suggested the Coast Guard was eager to wrap up the cleanup because it was costing precious manpower hours for which the agency was not getting compensated.
At the briefing, the Coast Guard’s top official overseeing the cleanup disagreed.
“The Coast Guard is in no way interested in ending this prematurely,” said Capt. Samuel Walker, the federal on-scene coordinator for the cleanup. “Not because of my time lost, not because of any other factor.”
Walker conceded the Coast Guard is not requiring BP to find buried oil. But he said the company has a responsibility to clean up oil when it is found.
Vitter also charged that the Coast Guard was “far too deferential” to BP’s experts and needs. He accused the agency of not doing enough to listen to the concerns of Louisiana officials, who have complained that BP is not being forced to do enough to find and clean up buried oil.
Walker said the agency was in continual contact with Louisiana officials and that the agency was carrying out a solid cleanup plan.
Although invited to appear at the briefing, BP did not send a representative.
Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman, said the issues “discussed at the briefing are the subject of ongoing litigation” and because of that BP was “unable to participate.”
He added that BP’s “commitment to the Gulf region has not changed.”
BP says its cleanup and response costs over the last two years were nearly $15 billion and more than 66 million man-hours have gone to protecting and treating the Gulf shoreline.
No other Senate members attended the briefing and the only other member of Congress to attend was U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who also attacked BP and the Coast Guard for not doing enough.