Nelson: Did Big Oil quash safety regulations?

The Florida Democrat is calling for a review by the Interior Department's inspector general

By Mark Benjamin

Published May 3, 2010 8:04PM (EDT)

In response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is asking the Interior Department's inspector general to review "the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence" over the development of drilling safety regulations.

In particular, Nelson wants to know if the industry has resisted fitting underwater wells with a device that remotely activates "blowout preventers" -- shut-off valves that, in the event of an emergency, seal a wellhead and prevent oil gushers. At least two other countries require that underwater wells be equipped with an audio signal that remotely activates the preventer, but not the United States.

Nelson wants the inspector general to look into possible oil industry influence into that and "all other regulations relevant to blowout preventers and well controls."

BP says it is unclear if the device would have prevented this spill, which is dumping over 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf every day. The acoustic switches cost about $500,000 each, which is decimal dust compared to what the oil spill will cost.

Here is Nelson's letter to the inspector general:

Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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Bill Nelson D-fla. Gulf Oil Spill