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Australian oil spill report may spark tighter controls

A report into a huge oil spill off Australia strikingly similar to the Gulf Coast one has been handed to the government.

Its results are unlikely to be made public for weeks, but conservationists and experts said it was already clear such drilling projects need far greater scrutiny.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who commissioned the inquiry, said he would seek legal advice to ensure that making it public would not jeopardise any future court cases.

The West Atlas rig and Montara wellhead platform in the Timor Sea off north-west Australia began leaking last August at a relatively shallow 650 feet beneath the sea. More than 400 barrels of oil a day stained the coasts of Indonesia and East Timor before mud pumped through a relief well shut off the spigot 11 weeks later.

The bigger leak off the southern US coast is pumping between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons a day into the Gulf of Mexico. The leak that started in April occurred much deeper at 5,000 feet.

Halliburton, a Texas-based global oil field services provider, was the contractor that provided cement seals for both BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and for the West Atlas rig in Timor Sea operated by PTTEP Australasia,

Greg Bourne, a former senior BP executive who is now the chief executive of the conservation group WWF-Australia, said the Australian report should be released next week so that the industry could learn from the mistakes.

He expected investigations would reveal design faults and cementing mistakes as well as procedural failures.

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