Tuesday: Oil Rig Companies to Face Questioning; Karzai Visits White House

BY Jason Breslow  May 11, 2010 at 8:55 AM EDT

New Harbor Islands

Two oil booms surround one of the New Harbor Islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

Executives from the three companies tied to the Gulf Coast oil spill head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Lawmakers from two Senate committees will question officials from BP, Halliburton and Transocean about the April 20 explosion that sunk the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and ultimately led to the spill.

As the Washington Post reports, the companies are playing “the blame game.” BP officials point to the failure of the rig’s “blowout preventer,” a device designed to shut off the flow of oil in the event of an explosion. The device, owned by Transocean, “was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident,” says BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay.

Transocean CEO Steve Newman counters, “Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP.”

Halliburton worked as a subcontractor on the Deepwater Horizon rig, charged with encasing the well’s pipe in cement and then plugging it to prevent gas from escaping up to the surface. That process was performed “in accordance” to BP’s requirements, says Tim Probert, president of Halliburton’s global business lines.

As lawmakers try to make sense of who and what is to blame for the spill, the Obama administration will break up the Interior Department agency charged with regulating offshore drilling: the Minerals Management Service.

“One agency would be charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations, while the other would oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties,” reports the Associated Press.

Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife, tells Post Carbon’s Juliet Eilperin that there has always been “an inherent conflict of interest” embedded in the current system — the same agency inspects oil rigs, probes wrongdoing and enforces safety rules, while simultaneously collecting royalties from the companies it oversees.

Karzai Makes White House Visit

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for a second day of talks with Obama administration officials on the nearly nine-year-old war. The White House is rolling out the red carpet for Karzai, writes Brian Katulis of the AFPAK Channel. The visit “offers Barack Obama’s administration an opportunity to address one of the weakest links in its Afghanistan strategy — the lack of a coherent plan for what the United States and its Afghan and international partners aim to leave behind in Afghanistan,” writes Katulis.

Over at Real Clear Politics, David Ignatius comments:

“The public will hear upbeat talk this week from Karzai and President Obama, but it shouldn’t disguise the underlying anxiety on both sides that the feasibility of the U.S. strategy for this war has yet to be proved.”

British Election Reaches ‘Critical and Final Phase’

A conclusion may be nearing in the still unsettled British election. While the Conservatives topped the Labor Party in last week’s election, it fell short of the outright majority needed to take over 10 Downing Street. Now both parties are wooing Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, in hopes of forming a ruling coalition government.

The Liberal Democrats opened formal talks with Labor on Monday after its leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, announced plans to step down. Following the session, Clegg said talks have reached a “critical and final phase.”