From: Matt Spetalnick, Reuters
Published May 22, 2010 09:05 AM

More Gulf drilling only if ensure no more spills, Obama

President Barack Obama said on Saturday that offshore oil drilling could only go forward if there were assurances that a disaster like the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill would not happen again.

As Obama officially unveiled a commission to investigate the accident, he issued a stern message that while keeping pressure on firms involved in the still-uncapped spill -- BP, Halliburton and Transocean Ltd -- he would also hold Washington accountable for mending its ways.

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In his executive order announcing former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly would co-chair the panel, Obama also made his first reference to the possibility of a separate criminal probe into disaster.

"The commission shall ensure that it does not interfere with or disrupt any ongoing or anticipated civil or criminal investigation or law enforcement activities or any effort to recover response costs or damages arising out of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and oil spill," the order stated.

Attorney General Eric Holder said on May 3 that the Justice Department was part of the investigation into the spill, though a U.S. official at the time said it was not a criminal inquiry.

With frustration growing and political risks looming over the spill, Obama gave the new bipartisan panel six months to report its findings and recommendations for the future of offshore drilling.

"The purpose of this commission is to consider both the root causes of the disaster and offer options on what safety and environmental precautions we need to take to prevent a similar disaster from happening again," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

Obama has steadily sharpened his tone over the past week as the oil leak -- which threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska as the worst U.S. ecological disaster -- has spread with little sign it will be halted soon.

Analysts say as ecological and economic damage mounts, it could become more of a political liability for Obama ahead of pivotal congressional elections in November when his Democrats already face the threat of big losses because of voter anxiety over nearly double-digit unemployment.

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64L11320100522

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