Big mistakes in oil rig explosion: U.S. official

HOUSTON (Reuters) - “Very major mistakes” were made by companies involved in last month’s deadly offshore oil rig explosion and no new offshore drilling permits will be issued until a review is complete, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Thursday.

“There were very major mistakes that were made by the companies involved,” Salazar told reporters after meeting with officials of BP Plc, the London-based energy giant whose ruptured well is spewing crude oil unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening four Gulf Coast states.

Salazar reiterated that the U.S. government will issue no new offshore drilling permits until an inter-agency panel submits a safety review to President Barack Obama by May 28.

In the meantime, existing offshore oil and natural gas drilling will continue, Salazar said.

The department on Thursday canceled public meetings scheduled for this month to discuss oil drilling off the Virginia coast until the review was done.

The Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that regulates offshore platforms, has found no evidence of safety violations during inspections ordered after the April 20 explosion, where 11 rig workers are missing and presumed dead.

Salazar met for several hours with BP executives at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Houston. BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward was not present at the meeting, a company spokesman said.

“We will hold them accountable for doing what they are legally responsible for doing,” Salazar said, referring to BP’s legal obligation to clean up damage from the spill.

“Its life is very much on the line here,” Salazar said, referring to BP. “Are they doing everything that they can possibly do? I hope that they are.”

Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Eric Beech