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BP oil spill: Obama administration opens criminal investigations

US officials on Tuesday unveiled both long-term and short-term approaches to the BP oil spill. The strategy includes criminal investigations.

By Staff writer / June 1, 2010

President Barack Obama, accompanied by BP Oil Spill Commission co-chairs former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., right, and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, after their meeting.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

The White House is doing its best to appear as if it is taking vigorous action to deal with the deepening BP oil spill disaster.

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On Tuesday, administration officials unveiled what might be called a long-term, short-term approach to the crisis.

For the long term, an independent commission will study the causes of the spill. Their job will be to ensure such a thing will never happen again, said President Obama in a Rose Garden appearance.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

“They have my full support to follow the facts wherever they lead, without fear or favor,” Mr. Obama said following a meeting with the commission co-chairs – Bob Graham, a former Florida governor and US senator, and William Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

For the short term, the Obama administration is opening criminal and civil investigations into the events surrounding the spill. The move threatens BP and other firms involved with the Deepwater Horizon rig with tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars of further liability costs, among other possible penalties.

“We will closely examine the actions of those involved in the spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response,” said Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday following a meeting with state attorneys general and federal prosecutors in New Orleans.

The Gulf oil-spill commission ultimately will consist of five members. They will look at everything from whether improper cementing caused a gas blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, to whether a too-cozy relationship between oil firms and federal regulators led to a climate that contributed to the disaster.

Similar federal commissions on other subjects have made notable contributions. Perhaps most famous was the Rogers commission, which looked at the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Commission member and physicist Richard Feynman demonstrated how cold temperatures made O-rings less flexible, which probably allowed hot gases to escape and ignite the Challenger’s external fuel tank.

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