Gulf oil spill: President Obama names panel to lead federal investigation


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With frustration growing over the unplugged oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama on Friday appointed a bipartisan panel to figure out the root causes of the disaster and recommend ways to prevent something like it in the future.

A former Florida governor and senator, Bob Graham, will join former Environmental Protection Agency director William K. Reilly as co-chairman of the commission, charged with studying how better regulation could stop accidents like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Obama is asking the seven-member commission to study the causes of the spill and issue a report within six months suggesting improvements. The president is expected to officially announce the creation of the commission as early as Saturday, an administration official confirmed late Friday.

The move comes a month after BP’s drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded, killing eleven people and bursting an underwater pipe. Since then, thousands of barrels of oil have spewed into the gulf daily in an environmental disaster of untold proportions. The company and outside experts are working frantically to try to plug the leak, as government officials grow increasingly agitated about the lack of success and its impact on small businesses and communities in the region.

The federal government has deployed more than 1,100 vessels and 24,000 workers, according to administration estimates. But along with its assistance to the oil companies responsible for the cleanup has come increasing criticism of corporate executives.

Obama has singled out executives at BP, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton for harsh criticism, particularly after their recent appearance on Capitol Hill to explain themselves. The president accused the executives of pointing fingers and casting blame instead of accepting responsibility for a disaster he attributes to a breakdown in responsibility on their part.

He has also claimed blame for the federal government and ordered changes within federal agencies. Also, administration officials have announced that no permits for drilling new wells will be granted for at least thirty days, and possibly longer.

Now, with the newly signed executive order, Obama is calling for a full-scale review of the regulatory process. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling is supposed to make an intensive examination of how the oil and gas industries operate and how the government regulates them.

Graham served two terms as governor of Florida and eighteen years in the U.S. Senate. Since his retirement in 2005, he has served as chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which was appointed to further the work of the 9/11 Commission. He also served as a commissioner on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, named by Congress to examine the causes of the recent financial crisis.

Formerly president of the World Wildlife Fund, Reilly served from 1989 to 1993 as administrator of the EPA. His tenure at the agency included the Exxon Valdez disaster. He is a founding partner of Aqua International Partners, a private equity fund that invests in companies involved in water and renewable energy.

---Christi Parsons and Richard Simon


Reporting from Washington