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US energy secy says offshore drilling not mistake
WASHINGTON May 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Wednesday defended the Obama administration's plans to expand offshore drilling, even while a growing oil spill threatens the Gulf Coast, saying the reality is that oil companies are doing more of their exploration offshore.
"No, I don't think it's a mistake," Chu said in a radio interview about the administration decision a month ago to open new offshore areas to drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida and in East Coast waters from Delaware down to central Florida.
Chu, speaking on the program "On Point," said President Barack Obama's expanded offshore drilling plan would help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Chu indicated offshore drilling cannot be stopped because the reality is that big oil companies have growing offshore petroleum reserves.
He said the government would work very hard to find out what caused a drilling rig leased by BP Plc (BP.L) to explode and sink in the Gulf of Mexico two weeks ago, and why the company has not been able to stop the leaking underwater oil pipe that followed.
BP officials briefed lawmakers about the spill on Tuesday on Capitol Hill, telling them under a worst-case scenario the the amount of leaking oil could grow from 5,000 barrels per day to 40,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.
However, Chu said offshore drilling would continue.
"You know, airplanes crash. We find out what happened, and we go forward, and every time these truly unfortunate accidents happen, you learn from them," he said.
Chu said he understood that the rig's blowout prevention valve did not work and several backup safety features at the leaking oil pipe some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface also failed.
"Clearly, because it happened, I would agree things are not perfect. Things are not fail-safe, and we have to learn from this," Chu said.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Walter Bagley)
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