Brother of Deepwater Horizon victim exhorts Congress to push for more offshore drilling safety


NEW ORLEANS – The brother of one of the 11 workers killed last year on the Deepwater Horizon rig knows Gulf offshore drilling is important to his home state of Louisiana, but he wants Congress to keep pressuring the oil and gas industry to improve safety.

Chris Jones told the House Committee on Natural Resources at a hearing Wednesday that while BP and other energy companies want to move on, he believes no one should have to needlessly risk his or her life to earn a living.

Officials from several Gulf states countered that deepwater drilling permits are not being issued fast enough, costing jobs and revenue.

Jones’ brother, Gordon, was a mud engineer for M-I Swaco, a unit of the Schlumberger oil field services firm, who was killed when the rig exploded. The blast led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to discuss the investigation of the disaster that was conducted by the presidentially appointed oil spill commission. The two co-chairs of the commission, as they have done before, discussed the findings and recommendations in the final report that the commission issued.

The subject of offshore drilling came up repeatedly during that hearing.

“We know one thing. If oil is drilled, oil will be spilled,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey. “We saw it in the worst of terms on the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t need to see a repeat of that.”

A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked a judge’s order requiring regulators to act on several drilling permit applications.

The federal government filed court documents earlier this month saying it may have to deny the applications if regulators must make a decision within 30 days as ordered.

The order was issued by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who overturned the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling. That moratorium followed energy company BP PLC’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Feldman ruled last month that the government must act on five applications within 30 days. He later said his ruling also applies to two other permits.

But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, blocking Feldman’s ruling pending the outcome of the government’s appeal.

The moratorium was lifted Oct. 12, but deepwater activities were still stalled for months after that, as regulators required strict new rules to be complied with before they would begin issuing permits again for previously suspended activities.

The first deepwater permit since the oil spill for activity that was previously suspended was issued Feb. 28. A second one was issued recently.

Congress has yet to pass any new laws based on the recommendations of the commission, which issued its final report Feb. 17. Another key investigation by a joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement panel is still ongoing, and some members of Congress are reserving judgment until that probe is complete.

Oil industry workers, fishermen and others complain nearly a year after the disaster that they are still being hurt by the aftermath of the spill.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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