An independent presidential commission has been set up to probe the huge oil spill from a wrecked BP-leased rig in the Gulf of Mexico, US President Barack Obama said Saturday.
The main task of the bipartisan body, formed by an executive order, is to provide recommendations on how the oil industry can prevent -- and mitigate the impact of -- any future spills that result from offshore drilling.
"Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address," Obama said in his weekly radio address as he announced the formation of the commission.
"But the question is what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again."
Two-term Florida governor and former senator Bob Graham, a Democrat, and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency William Reilly, a Republican, will serve as co-chairmen of the seven-member body, Obama said.
"I can't think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand," the president pointed out.
He said he will appoint the remaining five members of the panel in coming days. It will include scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates, but no sitting government employees or elected officials.
Even at the lowest estimates, more than six million gallons of crude have flowed into the water since the on April 20 explosion that heavily damaged a Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by energy giant BP in the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 people.
Obama said his administration had deployed over 1,100 vessels, about 24,000 personnel and more than two million feet of protective boom to help contain the spill.
"And we're doing all we can to assist struggling fishermen, and the small businesses and communities that depend on them," he noted.
The environmental disaster has prompted calls for a halt in offshore drilling.
But Obama all but brushed off this option, saying he had promised to put the country on the path to energy independence and has "not wavered from that commitment," despite the giant spill.
"Because it represents 30 percent of our oil production, the Gulf of Mexico can play an important part in securing our energy future," the president said.
"But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again. This commission will, I hope, help provide those assurances so we can continue to seek a secure energy future for the United States of America."
The commission will supplement existing government inquiries into the disaster sparked by an explosion aboard a drilling rig last month.
Earlier this month, Obama ratcheted up criticism of BP over the spills, betraying more and more frustration over the company's failure to stop the leak.
A week ago, a visibly angered president hit out at oil companies for trying to avoid blame over a massive slick, and vowed an all-out effort to stop the leak pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
He slammed the three oil companies linked to the Deepwater Horizon rig -- BP, Transocean and Halliburton -- for seeking to pass the blame, denouncing what he called a "ridiculous spectacle" by their top officials during congressional hearings.
He also accused oil companies of enjoying a "cozy relationship" with federal agencies set up to monitor the energy sector.
The president reiterated his criticism Saturday, saying the disaster "was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton."
He promised the government "we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable not only for being forthcoming and transparent about the facts surrounding the leak, but for shutting it down, repairing the damage it does, and repaying Americans who've suffered a financial loss."
The commission has been asked to issue its recommendations within six months.