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US Congress Steps Up Gulf Oil Spill Probe

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The U.S. Congress is stepping up its probe of the Gulf oil spill.   Top administration officials appeared before three Senate committees on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The Obama administration is clearly under pressure to do more to help contain the damage, and prevent another such disaster in the future.

A new underwater video - released as the latest hearings began - shows oil continuing to spill from the deep water well.

The BP oil company, which provided the video, says it has been siphoning about 2000 barrels of oil a day using a narrow tube inserted in the well.

But Barbara Boxer, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, says too little progress is being made.

"This is an ongoing nightmare," she said. "And if ever we are going to reform, you know, it is now."

The California Democrat wants the federal agencies involved in off-shore drilling to be more effective.

The lead agency is the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is part of the Interior Department.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar admits there have been lapses, and that federal regulators have been too sympathetic in the past to the oil industry.   But he told the Senate panel that things are changing.

"We have done a lot to reorganize this agency," he said. "We will be announcing some more reorganizing efforts in the days ahead with respect to MMS."

Salazar made clear there is a sense of urgency, stressing the battle against the oil spill is being fought on numerous fronts.

The Environmental Protection Agency, is keeping a close watch on threats to the delicate eco-system along the coastline.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told senators there are concerns about water pollution.  She says government officials are closely monitoring the use of chemicals called dispersants to break up the spill.

"We know that surface use of dispersants decreases the environmental risk to shorelines and organisms at the surface and we know that dispersants break down over weeks rather than remaining for several years as untreated oil might," she said. "But, we are also deeply concerned about the things we don't know."

Another source of concern:  the discovery of 20 tar balls off Key West, Florida on Monday.  Samples have been sent to a lab for analysis to see if there is any link to the Gulf oil spill.

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