Lawmakers demand answers from BP over ongoing Gulf oil sheen

The two leading congressional investigators into the 2010 BP oil disaster are pressing the company to turn over all information related to the ongoing oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast that's been traced to the failed Macondo well.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote a letter this week to BP CEO Robert Dudley requesting a briefing on the possible causes of the oil release by Oct. 30. Markey and Waxman are the ranking members respectively of the Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The company has said it believes the oil probably came from the riser, a piece of pipe that connected the drilling rig to the well.

"This recent report of a new oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon's riser raises questions about BP's efforts to stem the long-term impacts of the 2010 oil spill," the congressmen wrote.

Last month BP reported the sheen to the U.S. Coast Guard, which conducted tests that found the oil matched that from BP's Macondo well. The Coast Guard approved a joint plan from BP and Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, to use satellite imagery and remotely-operated vehicles to survey the ocean floor around the site.

The oil release at the site did not arise out of the blue last month, however: As far back as August 2011, watchdogs with the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) reported oil on the water's surface above the exact location of the Macondo well.

"Oil in the water harms whales, bluefin tuna, and many other species, and it's unacceptable that two years later, BP hasn't been able to secure their disaster site,"  GRN Deputy Director Aaron Viles blogged last week.

At the same time BP is coming under pressure to answer questions about the ongoing oil release, federal lawmakers are putting heat on the Obama administration to ensure the company pays fully for the damages caused by the Gulf disaster.

Earlier this month, eight U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to negotiate a settlement of the BP oil spill case that holds the company and other responsible parties accountable under every applicable law. Signing the letter were Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

The letter was a response to recent press reports that suggested DOJ was considering a settlement agreement involving a low penalty under the Clean Water Act in exchange for a higher penalty under the Oil Pollution Act's Natural Resource Damage Assessment. The senators are concerned such a plan would violate the intention of the bipartisan RESTORE Act, which directs 80 percent of the penalties BP pays under the Clean Water Act to Gulf states for economic and ecological restoration efforts. The RESTORE Act had broad support from Gulf political leaders and environmental advocates.

"The Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act have different objectives, and the parties responsible for the spill should be held fully accountable under both," the letter stated. "Complete ecological and economic recovery of the Gulf Coast can only occur if just penalty amounts are assessed under every applicable statute."

(Photo of BP's oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico as seen on Sept. 21, 2012 by NOAA.)