OFFSHORE DRILLING:

House Dems seek probe of BP platform

This story was updated at 1:05 p.m. EST.

A group of 19 House Democrats is asking the Minerals Management Service to investigate whether BP PLC has the required engineering documents to safely operate its Atlantis oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The platform "may be operating without crucial engineering documents, which, if absent, would increase the risk of a catastrophic accident that would threaten not only the workers on the platform, but also the Gulf of Mexico and the communities who depend on the resources it provides," the Democrats wrote in a letter to MMS.

Led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee that oversees public lands, the lawmakers said a whistle-blower notified MMS in March 2009 that he believed BP did not have required engineer-approved drawings for the Atlantis subsea components.

The lawmakers said a review of BP's database from that time, provided by the whistle-blower, appears to show that more than 90 percent of the documents may not have been approved by a professional engineer as required. They also said that a BP internal communication indicates that using incomplete or inaccurate documents "could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct."

Communication between MMS and congressional staff has suggested that while the company must maintain the documents, there is no requirement they be complete or accurate, the lawmakers said. "This statement, if an accurate interpretation of MMS authorities, raises serious concerns," they wrote.

Other lawmakers who signed the letter include Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that oversees energy and environmental issues, and Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), who is expected soon to chair the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which shapes the MMS budget.

A spokesman for MMS said that the agency received the letter from the lawmakers

"MMS will investigate the issues raised by the representatives and provide them a full report of the findings," the spokesman said. "As the federal agency charged with providing for the safe and environmentally responsible development of the nation's energy resources on the OCS, we take very seriously any credible information or concerns brought forward regarding the conduct of companies operating in federal waters."

A BP spokesman said the company has complied with MMS regulations on drawings for the platform and has provided documentation as requested by the MMS.

"The engineering documents for Atlantis have the appropriate approvals and platform personnel have access to the information they need for the safe operation of the facility," the spokesman said. "The Atlantis platform was designed and built to meet BP and global industry engineering standards, including review and approval of project design and construction procedures by professional engineers."

BP will continue to work with MMS when concerns are raised about any aspect of its operation, he said. The Atlantis field has been in service since October 2007 and has safely produced more than 50 million barrels of oil, successfully weathering two major hurricanes in 2008, he added, saying its safety, operations and performance record is excellent.?

Click here to read the letter.

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