Blame game on the Hill
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sits ominously off the American coast, growing steadily day by day. BP's latest plan is to ram rubbish, golf balls, shredded tyres and human hair in the leak to block the hole. It hardly sounds reassuringly high tech. But there's been plenty of technical detail in Washington as three companies try to explain what went wrong. Two Senate committees are hearing the evidence. In simple language, it's a blame game.
While all sides say there can be no definite conclusion about the cause of the tragedy, BP's American chairman Lamar McKay seems to blame a process carried out by Halliburton:
We are looking at why the blowout preventer did not work because that was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident. The blowout preventer is a 450-ton piece of equipment that sits on top of the wellhead during drilling operations. All of us urgently want to understand how this vital piece of equipment and its built-in redundancy systems failed.
Transocean's chief executive Steven Newman countered:
Over the past several days, some have suggested that the blowout preventers (or BOPs) used on this project were the cause of the accident. That simply makes no sense. The attention now being given to the BOPs in this case is somewhat ironic because at the time of the explosion, the drilling process was complete.
Both he and Halliburton's representative suggested the real problem might have been the failure to push a cement plug into the hole.
In other words, over to you BP. Even if you don't quite get the relationship between blowout preventers and cement plugs it is pretty clear no-one wants to say it is their fault. There's a lot of money at stake and President Obama is pressing for new laws that would raise the limit on what companies must pay out.
He's also decided to split into two the government organisation with responsibility for the oil industry. At the moment the Minerals Management Service oversees safety and collects billions of dollars for leasing the operations. For years, many have accused it of being too cosy with industry. The president seems determined that even if the oil continues to spread, the political consequences will be kept within firm boundaries.
The Senate session has now halted for a break. I'll be back with more if it's worth it.