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Obama: Drilling safety report necessary

From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Tuesday a "full and vigorous accounting" of what led to the biggest oil spill in the nation's history was necessary to show that deepwater drilling was safe enough to continue.

The Rose Garden remarks, part of his administration's ongoing efforts to show it is in charge of resolving the disaster, came after the president met with the co-chairs of a bipartisan commission he has created to investigate the incident and find ways to avoid another catastrophe.

Obama said that only after the commission's review "can we be assured that deepwater drilling can take place safely. Only then can we accept further development of these resources as we transition to a clean energy economy. Only then can we be confident that we've done what's necessary to prevent history from repeating itself."

The president has already called for a six-month moratorium on exploratory deepwater drilling and the implementation of new safety measures for offshore oil and gas drilling, but this is the farthest he's gone in suggesting that drilling at such depths might need to be stopped for a longer period.

Former Florida Gov and Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly will lead five others on the commission, including scientists and engineers still to be named.

The commission, whose report is due in six months, will be authorized to hold public hearings and request information from the government, from non-profits and experts in oil and gas industry at home and abroad and from relevant companies including BP, Transocean, Halliburton and others. The president, who has highlighted serious lapses in government oversight of the industry in recent days, said the co-chairs had his full support to "follow the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor."

"If the laws in our books are insufficient to prevent such a spill, the laws must change," Obama said. "If oversight was inadequate to enforce these laws, oversight has to be reformed. If our laws were broken leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of this catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region."

Attorney General Eric Holder today became the latest in a long string of administration officials to head down to the Gulf. Holder was in the region to survey the areas affected by the spill and to meet with state attorneys general and US Attorneys in the area.

BP's repeated attempts to staunch the flow of oil from the sea floor have proved unsuccessful. The government ordered the company to halt the "top kill" method over the weekend for fear it could worsen the problem. Now the company -- which says it has already spent some $990 million on efforts to stop the spill and mitigate the damage -- is trying another method to funnel the oil to a tanker on the surface.

Both the company and the government have warned that like the other attempts, this latest method faces a tough series of challenges, because it has never been attempted at a depth of 5,000 feet. Even if it works, the process of cutting the pipe, capping it and channeling it to the surface could temporarily increase the flow of oil.

During his Friday trip to the Gulf, his second since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the president announced a tripling of manpower in those places where oil has hit shore or was within 24 hours of impact. More than 20,000 men and women are engaged in response efforts in the region, more than 17,000 National Guard members across four states have been authorized to help and more than 1,700 vessels are aiding in response, the president said, calling it "the largest cleanup effort in the nation's history."