US President Barack Obama [official website] signed an executive order [text] on Friday establishing an independent commission [White House weekly address] to investigate offshore drilling and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico [BBC backgrounder]. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will be charged with identifying the causes of the BP oil spill and developing options to mitigate future occurrences through laws, regulations and agency reform. The commission will be comprised of a maximum of seven bipartisan members with experience in relevant fields such as science, engineering and the oil and gas industry. The order outlined how the investigation will be administered:
The Commission shall hold public hearings and shall request information including relevant documents from Federal, State, and local officials, nongovernmental organizations, private entities, scientific institutions, industry and workforce representatives, communities, and others affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as necessary to carry out its mission…The heads of executive departments and agencies, to the extent permitted by law and consistent with their ongoing activities in response to the oil spill, shall provide the Commission such information and cooperation as it may require for purposes of carrying out its mission…In carrying out its mission, the Commission shall be informed by, and shall strive to avoid duplicating, the analyses and investigations undertaken by other governmental, nongovernmental, and independent entities.The US Department of Justice [official website] will work in tandem with the commission to make sure the investigation does not interfere with any ongoing investigations, law enforcement activities, or cost-recovery efforts arising out of the BP explosion and subsequent oil spill. The findings will be compiled and delivered to Obama within 60 says of the commission's first meeting.
Criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has mounted. Earlier this week, DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in a US district court against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website], another BP Gulf of Mexico site. The Obama administration has asked DOI Secretary Kenneth Salazar [official profile] to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate but the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].