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Commission supports BP over spill

The presidential commission investigating the BP Gulf oil spill has challenged claims made in Congress that the oil company and others sacrificed safety to cuts cost.

In preliminary findings issued on Monday, the US panel's investigators supported many of BP's own conclusions about what led to the disaster.

The panel's chief investigator Fred H Bartlit Jr announced 13 principal findings, many of which seemed to tally with investigations of the blow-out, including BP's. Mr Bartlit said he agreed with "about 90%" of the company's own conclusions.

One determination in particular challenges the narrative which has dominated US headlines and Democratic probes in Congress since the April 20 incident killed 11 and unleashed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico: that BP made perilous choices to save money.

"We see no instance where a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs and opted to give up safety for costs," said Mr Bartlit. "We do not say everything done was perfectly safe. We're saying that people have said people traded safety for dollars. We studied the hell out of this. We welcome anybody who gives us something we missed."

Mr Bartlit said that despite the pressure of operating a 1.5 million dollars-a-day rig, workers ultimately do not want to risk their lives or the lives of others. "It's more complicated than that," he said.

Critics immediately complained. Daniel Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer suing BP and others, called the commission's finding "absolutely absurd". He also took issue with Mr Bartlit's endorsement of BP's view of events. He claimed: "They are pasting over because they know the government is going to be a defendant sooner or later in this litigation."

After months of hearings, investigations and finger-pointing, there is still disagreement over what and whose mistakes triggered the deadly and polluting explosion.

The president's commission is the first independent body to weigh in. Like BP, it found that the oil and gas travelled up the centre of the pipe in the well, rather than up the sides. They also questioned, like BP, the interpretation of a critical test used to determine if the well was stable before the company abandoned it. The investigators said that some procedures BP decided to use in that process, where a well is plugged until a company is ready to harvest oil and gas, introduced additional risk.

But its probe also left out critical elements, including why the blowout preventer - the last defence against a runaway well - failed to block the flow of oil and gas. Mr Bartlit said the team would await a forensic analysis before drawing conclusions. The blowout preventer is now protected evidence in a federal court case into the disaster. Mr Bartlit said his job was not to assign blame, but to deliver a report about what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig.

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