US moves to block new BP oil leases


BP faced more problems on Capitol Hill on Wednesday when lawmakers pushed ahead with a plan that would bar the UK oil group from obtaining new offshore oil leases because of its poor safety record.

The amendment, added to a broader oil rig safety bill that was expected to pass through the House natural resources committee this morning, underscored the threat to BP’s long-term future in the US. However, the proposal faces several hurdles before it becomes law.

BP is already under intense scrutiny in Congress, where legislators view the company as having an especially lax record on safety as shown by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is also under investigation by the US Department of Justice and environmental regulators, which could fine the company billions of dollars and seek to bar it from future drilling because of its safety failures.

The move came as BP began critical tests to measure the pressure in its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, following a delay requested by Stephen Chu, US energy secretary.

The pressure tests will pave the way for valves newly placed on top of the well to be shut off, stemming the oil flow.

If it became law, the bill would not affect BP’s current leases. It would first have to be passed by the entire House and the Senate, where Democrats could face resistance to some measures.

Lawmakers are under pressure to be tough on the company, but would also hesitate to pass a law that was viewed as hurting jobs or the ability of the US to take full advantage of domestic energy resources.

The company declined to comment on the development.

Separately, four Democratic senators scrutinising BP’s activities in Libya called for the British oil company to suspend its oil drilling plans in the north African state until its role in the freeing of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, is fully known.

BP has said it raised concerns with the British government about the slow progress in securing a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya in 2007, but that no specific reference was made to Mr al-Megrahi or any other individual prisoner.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she would look into the issue.

Mr al-Megrahi, who was said to have three months to live, was granted compassionate release from a Scottish prison last year, but a doctor has since said he could live for 10 years.

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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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