Lawmakers pressure feds to kick BP out of Gulf drilling lease sale

A top BP executive insisted Thursday that the oil giant has learned lessons from the Deepwater Horizon disaster but failed to convince some Democratic lawmakers that the company should be allowed to resume offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

During a wide-ranging hearing examining the 2010 Gulf spill, lawmakers pressed the Obama administration to defend its decision to let BP bid for oil and gas drilling leases during a Dec. 14 auction.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned whether the government should “consider suspending or barring BP from this lease sale to give us time to assess whether BP has made necessary changes to protect the Gulf.”

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., took aim at BP, Transocean and Halliburton — the three companies centrally involved in drilling and securing the failed Macondo well that blew out last year, killing 11 workers and unleashing the nation’s worst oil spill.

“What I hear is a continued failure on the part of the industry to acknowledge its responsibility for the negligence that caused deaths and untold environmental damage,” Holt said. “Maybe the government should debar BP from future lease sales and refuse to issue drilling permits to any operator who plans to use these companies until (they) step up and (admit) this was an accident waiting to happen because of a careless culture.”

The move puts new political pressure on the Obama administration, which considered — but then rejected — the idea of blocking BP from the upcoming sale of western Gulf of Mexico leases. It is the first such auction since last year’s spill.

“The question is: Do you administer the administrative death penalty based on one incident,” said Michael Bromwich, the head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. “And we’ve concluded _ I’ve concluded _ that’s not appropriate in these circumstances.”

Despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster that sent an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP doesn’t “have a deeply flawed record offshore,” Bromwich told reporters. In an “analysis of the relative safety of offshore operators . . . they were in close to the top tier.”