E2 Round-up: New optimism on Gulf oil spill, House probes the cause, Senate climate bill released but prospects remain uncertain

* Companies proceeded to drill despite warning signs

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee released the early results of their investigation into what caused the oil leak, which has been ongoing now for more than three weeks.

There were a number of possible reasons why a safety device designed as a fail-safe didn't pinch drill pipes closed after the blow-out, the panel found. Meanwhile, drill operators decided to proceed with operations after a key pressure test signaled a problem.

From the Wall Street Journal: "Managers at oil giant BP PLC decided to forge ahead in finishing work on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig despite some tests suggesting that highly combustible gas had seeped into the well.

"The move to start withdrawing heavy drilling fluid that prevents gas from escaping the well, despite some worrisome tests and before a final cement plug could be placed in the well, raises questions about the judgments made on the rig in the hours before an explosion erupted into the night air of April 20, killing 11 and eventually leaving oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico."

And here's a bit about a hydraulic leak in the blowout preventer that may have left it too weak to seal the leaking pipe from my account of yesterday's hearing: "Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subpanel ... said there were at least 'four significant problems' with the blowout preventer. The system is supposed to seal off a well in an emergency and prevent unwanted leaks.

"Among the problems, Stupak said, was a leak in the blowout preventer’s hydraulic system.

“'The safety of [BP’s] entire operation rested on the performance of a leaking, modified and defective blowout preventer,' Stupak said."

This account from the Los Angeles Times is also worth a read.

* Climate bill released, but its prospects remain cloudy

Ben, meanwhile, was all over the release of the Senate energy and climate legislation from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

There is a lot of new money in the bill for coal, nuclear and renewable energy companies, and the legislation has drawn the support of a strange-bedfellows coalition of environmentalists, religious and ex-military leaders and energy industry executives.

But Ben noticed something missing. "The glaring absence of a GOP senator underscored the bill’s gloomy future in the 111th Congress," he wrote.

Other reporters were equally pessimistic.

The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin says the legislation "still faces a steep hill in attracting the 60 votes needed for passage." 

John Broder of the New York Times reported: "The long delayed and much amended Senate plan to deal with global warming and energy was unveiled on Wednesday to considerable fanfare but uncertain prospects." Here's the link.