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Jul 12, 2010 3:07 PM by Melissa Canone

Gulf Oil Spill Panel Started Its Work Today

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The presidential panel that is supposed to
find the cause of the Gulf oil spill started its work Monday with a
hearing focused more on the response and the impact.
Amid interruptions by protesters, the National Oil Spill
Commission heard more from oil executives, experts and regular
people about the aftermath of the spill than why it happened.
That was by design, commissioners said. They wanted to know how
the spill harmed people as part of the work to lessen future
spills.
BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells testified at the start of
the two-day hearing about what BP was doing to try to stop the
leak. None of the seven commissioners asked him about the potential
causes of the Apr. 20 oil rig explosion that triggered the spill.
The toughest question to Wells came from University of Maryland
professor and commissioner Donald Boesch who asked "Why didn't the
industry anticipate this potential" for such a large spill. He
focused on clean up efforts, plans for stopping leaky wells and
technology. Wells said the industry hopes to learn from BP's
mistakes.
Commissioner Terry Garcia, an executive with the National
Geographic Society, said tougher questions for BP will come in the
future, when the company puts different officials in front of the
panel.
"We don't have the time today," Garcia told The Associated
Press.
While commissioners didn't ask questions of BP or Coast Guard
officials about the cause, they talked about finding the answer to
the question of why.
Commissioner Cherry Murray, dean of engineering at Harvard, said
in a personal statement that she thought it might be an issue of
people's natural proclivity "to become complacent."
Before the commission started, co-chairman and former Sen. Bob
Graham said the panel wants to find out if the BP explosion was
"an outlier" or something that could be more common.
Graham said before the hearing started that he wants to look at
ongoing problems with blowout preventers, whether the site of the
Deepwater Horizon rig was "a peculiarly risky site," and the
culture of industry and government regulators.
After little more than an hour of testimony by BP and Coast
Guard leaders, the rest of the day was scheduled to discuss the
economic impact of the spill on the Gulf coast. That impact could
go from an environmental disaster to an "economic calamity," said
Michael Hecht, president of Greater New Orleans Inc. Hecht said one
airline said reservations "dropped 45 percent month on month."
Keith Overton, representing Florida restaurants and hotels, said
bookings were down 25 percent, costing billions of dollars. He
blamed the media for giving the public the false idea that much of
Florida's beaches are oiled.
"Our economy is being stifled because of these perceptions,"
Overton said.
Boesch said the economic focus Monday was a function of time and
gaining the confidence of local residents.
"We need to get down here and listen to people ASAP," Boesch
told The Associated Press. "This first meeting is going to be
pretty much a listening session."

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