From the Los Angeles Times:
His voice breaking as he spoke of a brother lost in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, Christopher K. Jones pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to change a 90-year-old law that limits corporate liability for the 11 lives claimed in the April oil rig disaster.
Jones, a Baton Rouge attorney, displayed photos of his 28-year-old brother, Gordon, including one of an unfinished backyard fort his sibling had been building with his 2-year-old son. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jones referred to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s remark that he “would like [his] life back” and said, “Well, Mr. Hayward, I want my brother’s life back.”
But Tony (seen here in his office) couldn’t hear Mr. Jones.
(Tony’s Photo Gallery, l to r: Deadeye Dick Cheney, Diaper David Vitter, Haley Barbour of Incivility)
The hearing came on a day of mounting governmental responses to the continued leak from a BP well created by the rig explosion, including the Interior Department’s announcement that it would impose new rules on shallow-water offshore drilling but allow it to resume.
The regulations signaled a more aggressive stance toward oversight of offshore drilling, and focused on suspected contributors to the disaster, including blowout preventers — the device that failed to close the well.
While shallow-water exploration may resume, a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling remains in place.
Also Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the Survivors Equality Act, which would allow families of those killed in international waters to collect non-economic damages, such as for lost companionship, in addition to lost wages. “You deserve a measure of justice,” Leahy told Jones.
The act would amend the 1920 Death on the High Seas Act, which does not permit survivors to collect monetary damages for the loss of care and companionship.
Sen. Richard L. Durbin (D-Ill.) said oil companies engaged in risky drilling must shoulder responsibility for the human costs. “If you cannot accept that liability, stay the hell out of the business,” he said.
In addition, Congress is considering whether to eliminate the $75-million cap on liability for economic damages resulting from oil spills. Some Republican legislators have expressed concerns that rewriting liability laws could hurt smaller oil companies and benefit trial attorneys, a big source of campaign contributions to Democrats.
Senate Democratic leaders also unveiled a tax bill Tuesday that would raise the per-barrel tax on oil from 8 cents to 41 cents to help pay for an oil spill cleanup fund — 7 cents higher than a House-approved increase.
BP shares took another drubbing after his remarks, hitting a 15-month low in trading as they closed at $34.68, down $2.08, on the New York Stock Exchange. Since the disaster, BP shares have lost $81 billion, or 43% of their market value.
Hayward will make his first public appearance before Congress next week, testifying before the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee.
As workers continue struggling to stanch the oil leak, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response, said Tuesday that a recently installed cap had captured nearly 14,800 barrels, or about 620,000 gallons, the day before. BP has said that it would donate net proceeds from collected oil to a fund that will restore damaged wildlife.
University of Georgia scientists who returned from a two-week research cruise in the gulf said Tuesday they had found a 15-mile-long undersea concentration of oil and gas, 3 miles wide and 600 feet thick at its core, with levels of methane gas that were 10,000 times the norm.
“I’ve never seen concentrations of methane this high” in the gulf, said marine sciences professor Samantha Joye in a news briefing. Oil was depleting oxygen levels in and near the underwater mass, which Joye described as highly diffuse, like a mist of olive oil.
“There’s really no way to get the oil out of the water,” she said. “It’s going to be months or years before we realize the full consequences of the spill.”
Although investigations into the causes of the blowout are continuing, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Minerals Management Service would begin tightening regulations, including requiring that well design and blowout preventers be certified by third parties. Offshore drillers must also certify that their crews will know how to respond to a seeping well.
The Interior Department said that more new safety requirements would be established in the coming months.
Several of the engineering experts who reviewed the recommendations have taken issue with the six-month deep-water moratorium, calling it a “blanket” measure that amounted to “punishing the innocent.”
Environmentalists, meanwhile, called the new rules insufficient, saying that except for a requirement for third-party inspections, the regulations mostly restate existing policies.