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Interview with Congressman Bart Stupak

Interview with Congressman Bart Stupak

By John King, USA - May 26, 2010

KING: There are a number of investigations under way to figure out what caused the disaster in the Gulf. BP has sent Congress a memo showing the company was aware of several previously unreported warning signs just before the April 20th explosion that caused the leak. The congressional subcommittee that received that BP report is chaired by Michigan Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, who's here to go "One-on- One."

I want to get to that disturbing memo your committee put out, because it is, it's disturbing and it has all these alarm lights that probably should have been heeded. But I want to start first in the here and now. As you watch this unfold and you watch the response, there is a great deal of frustration with BP. There is also a growing sense of frustration with the federal government. The Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida this morning went as far as to say this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: If this thing is not fixed today, I think the president doesn't have any choice, and he better go in, completely take over, perhaps with the military in charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is that venting frustration, or is that realistic? A, can the federal government take charge in a way to do things operationally? Does it have the equipment? And should it? Is it time for that?

STUPAK: Well, I'm sure it's frustration. And anyone in the Gulf I'm sure is frustrated, not just the loss of life lost, 11 people on that rig, but all the damage you see day in and day out, and continues to mount. The lack of response, the slowness in what we saw.

And with the memo we put out yesterday, out committee, the timeline from five hours, two hours, 51 minutes, 41 minutes, 18 minutes, all the time there were warning signs this thing was going to blow.

KING: Let's go through some of that. Let's go through some of that, because I want our viewers to see the details when you do. The warning signs. Three flow indicators within one hour of the explosion. Unusual activity within five hours of the explosion. Concerns about the maintenance history, the modification, the inspection and the testing of the blowout preventer, which is essentially the last line of defense from a tragedy.

STUPAK: Right.

KING: In your mind, do you have any doubt BP should have known it had a problem and should have done something a lot sooner to stop it?

STUPAK: Going back through, and we looked through over 105,000 pages of documents, talked to the experts, the scientists. Two hours out, the fundamental flaw was made. The oil, the riser, was -- fluid was coming out, gas was coming out. There was the spurt, as they called it. Right then and there, two hours out, all the experts said, that was the fundamental flaw.

That's when you knew you had more pressure was coming out, you couldn't control it. You should have started shutting things down.

They didn't. They moved forward. As you said, an hour out, there was another warning sign. 51 minutes, warning sign. 41 minutes, another major warning sign. 18 minutes. They should have started shutting things down. They kept moving.

KING: Why didn't they? STUPAK: The right hand wasn't talking to the left hand. They didn't follow the plans that they had submitted to the MMS. In all fairness, there was a plan. They weren't following that. They didn't know how much mud was going in, how much seeping out, how much pressure was in these lines. When you had 1,400 pounds per square inch on one side of the pipe and zero on the other, that's a major error. And it should have been dealt with and was not dealt with properly.

KING: I applaud the effort to investigate, because we need to know this information. But I have a question in the sense that, after the mining disaster recently in West Virginia, everybody looked at it and said, boy, the Mine Health and Safety Administration needs to do more. The inspectors aren't getting there, or there's loopholes in the rules so that when you find violations, the companies get to punt it down the road and they don't have to shut down and deal with them. In this case, we've heard so much about the MMS giving -- allowing people to proceed even though they don't have the federal environment permits, cozy relationships, some corruption in the agency.

Why do people have to die in the mining case and in this case and the environmental tragedy as well before we see all of a sudden people in the Congress and elsewhere in the government say, we need to do more?

STUPAK: They shouldn't have to die. No one should have, nor should we have to put our environment at risk, like we are right here in the Gulf because of a blowout.

However, like today, I also chaired the Toyota hearings. And we're passing a bill to put $3 on a car, $3 user fee, to help fund the NHTSA, so we have the expertise in these areas. And I mean, you know, the other side made a big stink about the $3 we're going to add to a car to fund NHTSA, so we have the scientists, the engineers.

These regulatory agencies -- and I'm not being partisan here -- but in the last administration were devastated. People were laid off, people were let go. They were down to skeleton crews. They cut corners. They didn't have experts who knew, whether it was NHTSA or the Mineral Management Administration--

KING: This administration has been in power for 15 months, though.

STUPAK: It's been trying to ramp up. You've seen on your own show, you reported that it takes about five months to hire anyone (ph) in the federal government. This president said, let's do it in five weeks, and we're moving. We're getting there.

You see all the secretaries, undersecretaries who are tied up in the Senate, these senators put holds on them. We can't get the proper people in the right place. The people that the president has nominated to take control, to take charge of these regulatory agencies are being blocked because some senator has a hold because he doesn't like what happened five years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

STUPAK: It's crazy.

KING: Do you trust BP, knowing what you know, knowing what you found in your report? They're the lead right now in trying to fix this. Do you trust them?

STUPAK: No. The reason we put out the memo is because BP wasn't telling us the truth, whether it's the modifications on the blowout protector, where I've spent a lot of time. Now we find that BP did know there was modifications on the blowout protector, and they didn't have the right schematics there to deal with this blowout protector. We've been pushing BP. How many other blowout protectors do you have? Not just BP, Shell, all of them, Exxon, in the Gulf? Have you checked them to make sure that your settings are tight, to make sure your batteries work?

KING: How many of these could be out there? How many more of these could be out there?

STUPAK: Oh, there's probably actually going on probably about 30 to 50, maybe.

KING: And lastly, do you think we need more rules, more backup systems, more requirements, that they not have one (ph) blowout protector, or do we need the existing police, the government, the regulatory agencies to do a better job?

STUPAK: Both. You need the existing police, and if you're going to drill in environmentally sensitive areas, then let's have some redundancy, let's have a backup system. That acoustics blowout protector that they should have had, could have had, that would have been $500,000. That's what it costs to use that. Remember, they use these blowout protectors. You use it, you move it to the next time when you start drilling. So you make a one-time investment and use it over and over again, but you have to maintain it, you have to keep it in good shape. You have to make sure the batteries work. I mean, this--

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- didn't have to happen.

STUPAK: This did not have to happen. This was just pure negligence. And not just BP. You have Transocean here, you have Halliburton, as our timetable showed last night, with the cementing, the problems going on there. So I mean, you got -- it's not just BP. It was -- all the players down there let us all down. And not only let us down, the American people, but all those families of people died, as you said earlier. Do people have to die to get to the bottom of this? I hope not.

KING: Congressman Bart Stupak, we appreciate your time today. We'll keep in touch in the days and weeks ahead.

 

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John King, USA

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