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House Dems raise fears about another BP project

Lawmakers fear the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could foreshadow a larger tragedy at the Atlantis rig, which is operating in deeper waters off the Gulf coast.

More than two dozen House Democrats are asking the Interior Department on Thursday to stop another BP drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico, saying they feared it could end up being more damaging than the ongoing spill stemming from BP's collapsed Deepwater Horizon rig.

The 28 Democrats -- led by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. -- are sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Minerals Management Service Director Elizabeth Birnbaum saying they fear the Deepwater Horizon accident could foreshadow a larger tragedy at the BP Atlantis rig, which is operating in deeper waters.

"A worst-case scenario oil spill from Atlantis, which has been in production since 2007, would exceed the Exxon Valdez spill in only two days," the Democrats said.

The spill stemming from the ruptured well of the Horizon over the past three weeks is believed by some to have exceeded the 10.8 million gallons spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

"In light of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it is clear that MMS must promptly and thoroughly investigate whether BP is currently operating safely and adhering to the law with Atlantis," the Democrats say.

Grijalva, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and at one time a potential candidate to become President Obama's Interior secretary, has been investigating potential safety issues with the Atlantis rig for more than a year.

He and the other Democrats point out in the letter that a whistleblower in March 2009 notified MMS that he believed BP did not have a large percentage of updated and engineer-approved outlines for the rig's subsea components. A subsequent review of a BP database indicated that more than 90 percent of the nearly 7,200 documents and drawings for those components had not been approved by a professional engineer, as required by MMS.

In a 2008 e-mail, BP management "indicated that using these incomplete or inaccurate documents 'could lead to catastrophic operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct,'" the Democrats said.

Many of the same House Democrats asked MMS in February to fully investigate this issue, which MMS has since done. "Still, a number of developments occurred during and after the circulation of our letter that concern us," they said.

Among their concerns is that while an MMS report is due this month, the agency has not interviewed the former contractor who was the initial whistleblower, the Democrats argued.