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Reports Suggest BP Cut Corners on Safety, Design of Gulf Rig

June 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now to the oil spill.

A judge in New Orleans says he will decide by Wednesday whether to overturn a temporary moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects. The ban, imposed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is being challenged by a company that ferries people and supplies to offshore rigs.

But, as courts look into the aftermath of the explosion, new questions are being raised about what caused it in the first place.

As the spill continues well into its third month, new reports surfaced today suggesting BP cut corners on safety and understated the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf. In one BP document given to Congress in early May and made public over the weekend, the company estimated a flow rate of 100,000 barrels a day, far above the 60,000 a day the government has estimated.

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, said BP withheld the higher estimate intentionally.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY, D-Mass.: BP has either been lying or grossly incompetent from day one. I think that they have been trying to limit their liability.

GWEN IFILL: BP, however, said the higher estimate was a worst-case scenario that would only occur if the blowout preventer was completely removed, something they said they have no plans to do.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. oil spill official, said today experts are still trying to determine how much oil is leaking from the well. Exact numbers, he said, will not be available until a new containment metered system is installed next month.

Additional reports from The New York Times and the BBC also raised questions today about how much BP knew of existing risks that could have compromised the blowout preventer designed to seal the well.

TYRONE BENTON, Deepwater Horizon rig worker: We saw a leak on the pod. So, by seeing the leak, we informed the company. They have a control room where they could turn off that pod and turn on the other one, so that they don’t have to stop production.

QUESTION: So, they found a problem, and, instead of fixing it, they just shut down the broken bit?

TYRONE BENTON: Yes. They just shut it down and worked off another pod.

GWEN IFILL: The new revelations have continued to undermine BP’s credibility among Gulf Coast residents.

MAN: I’m outraged, but, more than anything, I’m disheartened about it. If they’re — if you can’t trust them with a statement like that, then the statement that they’re going to clean it up, you can’t trust that either.

GWEN IFILL: That anger received new fuel this weekend when photos surfaced of BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward at a yachting race off the coast of England.

CRAIG BIELKIEWIC, fishing boat captain: So, he got his life back. Or I guess he never lost his life. So, I guess we’re still working on ours.

NARRATOR: From the heart of the nation’s capital, “This Week.”

GWEN IFILL: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel also echoed that sentiment in a Sunday morning interview.

RAHM EMANUEL, White House chief of staff: Tony Hayward, he has got his life back, as he would say. And I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in P.R. consulting. This has just been part of a long line of P.R. gaffes and mistakes.

GWEN IFILL: Last Friday, the company announced Bob Dudley, an American BP executive, would take over its oil spill response operation, but Hayward remains on the job.

BP says it’s already paid out $105 million to 32,000 claimants, and has spent $2 billion trying to contain and clean up the oil. But that hasn’t stopped it from hitting Gulf Coast beaches, causing Florida’s Tourism Council to mount a special appeal to would-be vacationers.

NARRATOR: Two-hundred and twenty-one miles, that’s a lot of beach to choose from.

GWEN IFILL: Governor Charlie Crist:

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, I-Fla.: Most of the beaches in Florida are pristine, are unimpacted by this event. The vast majority of them are. And the reality is, when tar balls come up on the beach, so long as we’re able to get the personnel there in a timely fashion, they can be cleaned up fairly quickly.

We can’t mislead people, but it is not misleading to say to any potential tourist that our beaches, the vast majority of our beaches, are beautiful. The water is clean. The fish are biting. And they can go scalloping.

GWEN IFILL: BP declined to confirm reports today it plans to raise $50 billion to cover the cost of the spill.