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Panel demands oil-spill tests halt

A US government board has demanded that analysis of a key piece of the BP Gulf oil spill evidence stop until representatives of the companies that made and maintained the device are removed from the process.

The US Chemical Safety Board said in a letter to the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement the companies' hands-on involvement in the forensic analysis of the blowout preventer that began more than a month ago undermined the investigation's credibility.

Cameron and Transocean officials are among a small army of representatives from companies and US government agencies allowed to watch and consult, but are not involved in the actual testing, which is being done by a Norwegian firm.

But the safety board said it also wanted that firm terminated, or at least supervised, by a neutral third-party.

Transocean said the safety board's "accusations are totally unfounded".

The safety board investigates serious chemical accidents and makes recommendations. It had previously agreed to the current test protocols and has complained that it has not been allowed to be more involved.

"Given the well-publicised history of improper relationships between the former Minerals Management Service and members of the oil industry, one would have expected that extraordinary care would be taken to conduct the BOP testing above reproach," the letter said.

"One would have expected an independent, second set of eyes like the CSB to be welcomed. Regrettably this has not been the case."

The MMS was renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement after two scathing reports by a government inspector general highlighted drug use and sex among agency employees and oil and gas industry executives. The reports said drilling regulators accepted gifts and trips from oil and gas companies and even negotiated to go work for the industry while overseeing it.

Since the blowout preventer testing began on November 16 at a Nasa facility in New Orleans, technicians have largely been disassembling the 300-ton device that failed to stop the oil spill and have so far not determined why it did not do its job, according to a person briefed on the progress.


From Belfast Telegraph