House Dems request briefing on offshore oil explosion

Signatories included Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Edward Markey (Mass.), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee; and Reps. Bobby Rush (Ill.), Rush Holt (N.J.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.), all of whom hold subcommittee ranking member titles.

Black Elk already is facing disciplinary action from the Interior Department for the explosion. The agency had previously cited the company for numerous safety violations. It is still investigating the explosion.

The Houston Chronicle reported last week that “hot work” — any activity that could spark an explosion or fire — might be to blame. The Interior Department told Black Elk to immediately cease hot work last week, saying the firm’s offshore operations “must be improved immediately.”

A day before the Black Elk incident, BP and the Justice Department reached a $4.5 billion criminal settlement for the 2010 spill, the Democrats noted in their letter.

Markey and other House Democrats often invoke the BP disaster, which left 11 workers dead and stands as the largest oil spill in U.S. history, when calling for stricter offshore drilling safeguards.

House Democrats have sought to strengthen those rules following the BP spill, but they blamed Republican leadership for stymieing those efforts.

House Republicans argue some of the rules the Obama administration rolled out since 2010 are too heavy-handed.

They want to open offshore areas to drilling that President Obama’s five-year leasing plan keeps off limits, such as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.