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Alaska lawmakers seek cautious approach to offshore drilling regulation

Eric Christopher Adams

Congress should be cautious about rushing to propose new legislation or regulations for offshore oil development, according to Congressional Republicans. Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young, as well as the Obama administration's national incident commander during last summer's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are speaking out after the release of a final report from the White House-appointed offshore drilling commission.

The Coast Guard and Department of the Interior are continuing a joint probe into the circumstances leading up to the April 20 blowout of the BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, according to retired Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen in an article by POLITICO. And the forensic investigation into problems with the cementing job, the well's blowout preventer, fire suppression systems aboard the vessel that supported the well -- the various safeguards that an offshore oil well has in place to prevent catastrophe -- is still underway, even after release of the 300-page final report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Leaders of the presidential commission in late January "beseeched Congress" to act quickly to regulate offshore drilling during hearings on Capitol Hill, after having met privately with the White House and various oil industry representatives.

According to Young, Congress should take a "wait-and-see" approach, and allow the other investigations to continue and complete before proposing legislation. "'I'm not really excited about the commission's recommendations ... because it doesn't get into the answers as to why the spill occurred,' including all human and mechanical errors," Young told POLITICO. "Until we find that out, I don't think we rush into legislation."

Democrats, the article notes, want immediate action on specific recommendations by the commission, including raising the current $75 million per-spill liability cap for oil companies. West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, the ranking member of a Congressional subcommittee on transportation and infrastructure, told POLITICO: "We do not need to know that we were not prepared for this type of blowout, that our ability to clean up oil spills is woefully inadequate, that regulators were too cozy with the industry ..."

Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and his Louisiana counterpart, Sen. Mary Landrieu, are reportedly negotiating an agreement with the Democratic leadership to retroactively lift the BP liability cap.

Meanwhile, up here and off Alaska's shores, Royal Dutch Shell has been handicapped in its plans to drill exploratory, offshore oil wells in the Beaufort Sea by federal regulators who were considering an appeal from the oil producer after environmental permits had been revoked.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com