NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday called on the U.S. Congress to hold hearings into BP's operations in Alaska following a second oil pipeline rupture at its Prudhoe Bay operations over the weekend that will shut the 400,000 barrel-a-day oilfield.
"It is appalling that BP let this critical pipeline deteriorate to the point that a major production shutdown was necessary," said Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement.
"The United States Congress has an obligation to hold hearings to determine what broke down here and what laws and regulations need to be improved to ensure problem pipelines like these are found and fixed earlier," Dingell said.
Democratic Rep. Edward Markey (news, bio, voting record), who also serves on the House committee, said the shutdown reflects BP's chronic mismanagement of its U.S. drilling operations and that the company had been earning enough money to prevent the problem.
"With oil above $70 per barrel and BP making record profits, it can afford to properly clean and maintain its pipelines," Markey said in a statement.
Markey said the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety needed the legal authority to require minimum maintenance standards and avoid such pipeline shutdowns.
"This sudden loss of production will dramatically increase oil prices and the American people will be footing the bill for this combined failure of DOT's regulatory oversight and BP's corporate responsibility," he said.
Congress is now out for its month-long summer recess, and any hearings on the shutdown would not take place until lawmakers return in early September.
In the meantime, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) said the Bush administration should immediately release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help offset the lost Alaska crude supplies.
Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said the government was prepared to make oil loans from the emergency stockpile to West Coast refiners if they requested the supplies.
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett in Washington)