* Panel investigators found preventer leaked, too weak
* Company president defends blowout preventer product
* Top Republican urges no restrictions on oil drilling
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, May 12 The device designed to cut
the oil flow after BP's oil rig exploded was faulty, the head
of a congressional committee said on Wednesday as executives in
the unfolding Gulf of Mexico disaster were lambasted over
shoddy practices in the second day of hearings.
The chairman of a House of Representatives subcommittee
said on Wednesday its investigators uncovered significant
problems with the blowout preventer device, including the
failure of several emergency backup switches to stop the flow.
Representative Bart Stupak, head of the House Subcommittee
on Oversight and Investigations, said the rig's underwater
blowout preventer had a leak in its hydraulic system and the
device was not powerful enough to cut through joints to seal
the drill pipe.
He said the panel's investigators also discovered the
blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig had been modified, which made it difficult to operate after the accident.
Stupak also said the device's emergency backup controls may
have failed because the explosion that destroyed the rig also
disabled communications, preventing workers from sending
signals to the underwater device.
"The safety of its entire operations rested on the
performance of a leaking and apparently defective blowout
preventer," Stupak said.
Top executives from the companies involved in Gulf of
Mexico disaster returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for the
second day of hearings after marathon sessions yesterday.
Representative Joe Barton, the top Republican on the
subcommittee's full Energy and Commerce Committee, urged
lawmakers not to restrict offshore drilling but still blasted
the companies involved in the accident.
"We've had an accident. It is not an act of God," Barton
said. "It is something that could have been and should have
been contained. The facts that we've uncovered ... show that
there was in all probability shoddy maintenance."
BP American President Lamar McKay told lawmakers that
blowout preventers are intended to be fail-safe.
BP officials had told panel investigators that the
modifications to the blowout preventer were so extensive that
drawings provided by Transocean of the device after the
accident no longer matched the structure on the ocean floor.
At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Transocean's president,
Steven Newman, said the modifications to the blowout preventer
were made in 2005 at BP's request.
Jack Moore, the president of Cameron International Corp.
that built the blowout preventer in question in 2001, told the
House panel that it was "far too early" to draw conclusions on
what caused the accident. He said the company has not been able
to the examine the blowout preventer.
Lawmakers also criticized BP's lack of planning to deal
with an oil spill in the Gulf's deep waters.
"BP is largely making it up as they go," Representative Ed
Markey said. "They are engaging in a series of elaborate and
risky science experiments."
Markey joked about BP's proposal to stuff the blowout
preventer with golf balls, oil tires "and other junk" to block
the spewing oil.
"When we heard the best minds were on the case, we expected
MIT, not the PGA," said Markey, referring to the professional
golfing group. "We already have one hole in the ground and now
their solution is to shoot a hole in one?"
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; additional reporting by Ayesha
Rascoe; Editing by Russell Blinch and Bill Trott)