Interior Rejects Calls to Shut Down BP Atlantis

| Tue Jun. 15, 2010 5:15 AM EDT

A whistleblower and an environmental group have asked a federal court to grant a temporary injunction to shut down BP's other big Gulf drilling operation, the BP Atlantis, arguing that it is operating without crucial safety documents. In its court filing responding to the suit, the Department of the Interior argues that shutting down the platform is a decision only the agency can make—the court doesn't have that power.

The agency rejects the legal challenge from Food & Water Watch and former BP contractor-turned-whistleblower Ken Abbott. The department also says it is conducting an "exhaustive investigation" in response to the request of members of Congress "to determine whether BP maintains a complete and accurate set of required engineering drawings for the BP Atlantis platform and its associated subsea components." The results of that investigation "will determine whether any enforcement action (including the very relief requested by Plaintiffs—suspension of production) is appropriate."

The Minerals Management Service was supposed to complete that review by the end of May, but the agency says that because of the Deepwater Horizon incident "the Atlantis investigation was temporarily suspended." The court filing says that because of the "quantity of records and need for MMS to focus on responding to the Deepwater Horizon accident," the investigation is only about 10 percent complete at this time, and should be finished in the next three months.

But in a statement on Monday, Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter accused the agency of "dragging its feet" in attending to the red flags at the BP Atlantis. "Their inability to close a rig that is operating without any evidence of safety, especially in light of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, has led us to conclude that Secretary Salazar is serving oil interests, not the public interest."