Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US to probe BP over Lockerbie link

OILY WATERS The move comes as a ban on drilling passed its first hurdle in the House of Representatives and BP delayed tests of a new cap on the oil gusher

THE GUARDIAN AND AP , LONDON AND NEW ORLEANS

An oil-soaked heron walks along oil on the beach and in the water in Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday pledged to look into demands from a group of senators for an investigation into charges that BP lobbied for the release of the Lockerbie bomber as part of an oil-for-terrorist deal.

The oil company also yesterday faced the prospect of being shut out of the US after legislation that could ban it from offshore drilling projects for seven years cleared its first hurdle.

With pressure mounting on BP, Clinton responded to reports that it had lobbied the British government for the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi to help it clinch lucrative drilling contracts off Libya.

“I have received the letter and we will obviously look into it,” Clinton said.

Megrahi was convicted in connection with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 in which 270 people died. He was released on compassionate grounds and repatriated to Libya in August last year after doctors said he was suffering from cancer and had likely only months to live. He is still alive.

“There was an expectation from last August that Mr Megrahi had only a few months to live. We’ve been on the Megrahi watch since that time,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “Every day that he lives as a free man, we think is an affront to the families of and victims of Pan Am 103.”

News of a possible State Department investigation came as BP was forced to put back a pressure test of a new cap over its fractured well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP had hoped to begin sealing off the gusher with the new cap on Wednesday, but senior vice president Kent Wells said engineers needed to be certain the well pipe could stand up to additional pressure.

BP engineers were working yesterday to choke the flow of oil found a leak on a line attached to the side of the new cap on Wednesday before attempting to stop the flow of crude.

If the cap works, it will enable BP to stop the oil from gushing into the sea, either by holding all the oil inside the well machinery or, if the pressure is too great, channeling some through lines to as many as four collection ships.

In Washington, meanwhile, lawmakers were looking at measures that could severely restrict BP’s future operations in the US.

The House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on Wednesday approved a proposal from Democrat Representative George Miller that would ban oil firms with a history of violating safety and environmental rules from new drilling projects.

“One of the things you should bring to this game is a safety record. You have a company that has had an egregious safety record, a fatal safety record,” Miller said.

On paper, firms that have five times as many violations as the industry average would be banned from bidding on contracts. In reality, however, it would only apply to BP, which has a long history of violations.

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