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Eighteen Democratic senators have asked the Justice Department to investigate the operator of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig after the company announced it would dole out $1 billion to shareholders as oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico.
Transocean, according to the letter from the senators, plans to distribute dividends to its stockholders. And the senators are concerned that the payments might make it harder to collect liability payouts related to the massive oil spill.
Transocean, according to the letter, also says it will make a $270 million profit on the insurance policy for the rig. And the senators claim the rig was insured for more than it was worth.
A wide swath of the Democratic Caucus — about 30 percent — signed the letter, including Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Chuck Schumer of New York, Patty Murray of Washington, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, Max Baucus of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Begich of Alaska, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
The call for an investigation ramps up tensions between Congress and Transocean. Much of the ire has recently been directed toward BP, which hired Transocean to operate the rig. Transocean might have been unfairly spared, congressional aides say.
BP has alleged that Transocean was responsible for the safe operation of the equipment and has largely dodged blame while the oil giant has taken its lumps.
“Families of those who died in the disaster, the fishing industry that has been devastated by the oil spill and the governments that have worked full time to clean up this spill deserve better,” the senators wrote in the letter.