Lawmakers slam Big Oil executives on spill preparedness
At Tuesday's congressional hearing, legislators criticized four Big Oil companies for being no more prepared for a large spill than BP.
Four of five Big Oil executives testifying before Congress Tuesday said they would not have drilled the Deepwater Horizon well in the same way that BP did, saying safety measures that could have been taken were not. The fifth executive, from BP, didn't have that option.Skip to next paragraph
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Well-control procedures were front and center at Tuesday's House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing. A letter Monday by a subcommittee panel cited internal e-mails from a BP drilling engineer who called the Macondo well under the Deepwater Horizon a "nightmare well" just five days before it erupted and sank.
"It certainly appears from your letter than not all the standards we would employ ... were in place," John Watson of Chevron contritely told members of the committee when asked if Chevron would have done things differently.
Tuesday's hearing is the latest step from a Congress whose legislators have in recent weeks seemed to alternate between berating BP for its blowout failure and inability to stop it, and hammering on the Obama administration for seeming slow and inept. But all the unrest could develop into what some analysts call a "stampede" in Congress which would bring tougher legislation on offshore drilling.
The wide-ranging hearing saw lawmakers hitting on an increasingly familiar litany of issues, including whether to lift the liability cap for oil spills and whether to escrow BP funds.
Still, the legislators seemed to be zeroing in on specific industry practices that may be the subject of new regulation or legislation, including such esoteric industry topics as the cementing of wells and well-casing procedures.
An even bigger focal point, however, was the degree of preparedness of each of the companies. Several lawmakers made the point that the companies made a show of being prepared for a worst-case spill, but in fact were no more prepared than BP was.
Some Republican members of the panel, like Rep. Fred Upton from Michigan, appeared to try to ride to the rescue of the beleaguered executives. "Jobs, environment, economy" were the big issues, he said, dismissing what he called calculated attempts by some on the panel to make renewable energy and a push for a climate-energy bill the focus of the hearing.
He and others hammered at what he called "cookie-cutter" oil spill response plans that he noted were identical to each other in most respects.
"It just seems to me that for each of your companies, the only [oil-spill cleanup] technology you seem to be relying upon is a Xerox machine," Markey retorted.
Was it embarrassing for the executives to have each of their oil-spill response plans refer to species not even present in the Gulf – such as walruses – or to cite a deceased University of Miami expert as a reference, as they all did, Representative Markey asked them.