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Volume 88 Issue 25 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: June 21, 2010

Congress Blasts Oil Industry

BP Spill: Industry chiefs defend practices, while noting response plans’ shortcomings
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Climate Change
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: oil companies, BP Spill
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Top executives from five major oil companies testified before Congress last week.
Credit: XINHUA/Newscom
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Top executives from five major oil companies testified before Congress last week.
Credit: XINHUA/Newscom

In packed hearings last week before angry members of Congress, the heads of BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil defended their industry in light of the April 20 BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which has led to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Adding fuel to the hearings, a team of government and independent scientists last week revised estimates of the spill’s size, raising the daily leak to up to 2.5 million gal, far higher than previous figures.

Triggering several of the hearings was a House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee investigation that found BP was far over budget and behind schedule as it neared completion of the well. Consequently, the report says, risky decisions were made over the objections of some BP personnel and contractors and in violation of industry guidelines in an attempt to speed completion of a difficult, “nightmare” well—in the words of one BP engineer.

Specifically, the report cited shortcomings in the well design and in preparations for the final cementing of the borehole to close the well, as well as several errors in construction, installation, and testing of the well casing.

BP found little support for its practices when quizzed by Congress members. Indeed, even the other oil executives took issue with BP’s drilling practices for this well. “We would have drilled a different well,” noted Rex W. Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s CEO.

Energy & Commerce Committee members also challenged the value of oil industry response plans prepared by individual companies should an accident or spill occur. Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) called them “cookie-cutter paper plans” and noted they were 90% identical. Several plans discussed how to protect walrus, a species not found in the Gulf, and the plans listed contact information for an oil-drilling expert who had died four years before the plans were written.

The oil executives acknowledged the response plans are inadequate. Tillerson called the mention of walrus an “embarrassment.”

But Tillerson noted that when oil rig blowouts occur, “there will be impacts, and we never represented anything different than that.”

“The emphasis has always been on preventing these things from occurring, because when they happen we are not well equipped to handle them,” Tillerson said. “That is the fact of the enormity of dealing with them.”

 
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