The Obama administration is under pressure to investigate whether employees of two companies tied to the failed blowout preventer in the BP oil disaster compromised the investigation by getting "hands-on" access to the device.
Rep. Ed Markey, who heads a House subcommittee probing the disaster, fired off a letter urging the Obama administration to take action after the U.S. Chemical Safety Board complained of what it called "manipulation."
"If we are to hold the companies legally responsible for this accident, we can't afford any black mark on the investigation involving the 'black box' of this underwater disaster," wrote Markey, D-Mass.
In a letter to the federal agency overseeing the investigation, Safety Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso wrote that workers for Cameron International, which made the blowout preventer, and rig owner Transocean were allowed "hands-on manipulation" during federal tests to determine why the massive device failed.
"That approach diminishes the credibility of the entire process and jeopardizes the public's trust in the examination results," he added. "Given the well-publicized history of improper relationships between the former Minerals Management Service and members of the oil industry, one would have expected that extraordinary care would be taken to conduct the BOP testing above reproach."
The board noted that the companies at times had closer access to the equipment than the safety board itself.The board is one of several agencies looking into the disaster. It asked the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to limit access. That bureau was created earlier this year from the remnants of MMS.
The Houston Chronicle on Tuesday revealed that one of the Transocean employees with access was actually hired as a consultant by Det Norske Veritas, the company running the tests.
That appeared to violate a conflict-of-interest provision in the government's contract with Det Norske Veritas, bureau adviser Michael Farber acknowledged in a letter to the Chemical Safety Board.
Markey also posted the Safety Board letter and photos of the test area showing the Transocean employee manipulating a blowout preventer pipe and working on other equipment over at least two weeks.
The Houston Chronicle said Det Norske Veritas has since been instructed to terminate its consulting contract with the Transocean employee.