Lawmakers Grill Oil Executives On Spill, Clean Energy
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
Congress is poring over the details of the BP oil spill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled top executives from BP and other oil companies today. They questioned the company's drilling methods and their readiness to handle an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Committee members say BP made five specific decisions while drilling the Deepwater Horizon well that increased the risks of a disaster. In a moment, we'll hear from committee chairman Henry Waxman about newly uncovered internal BP documents.
First, this report from NPR's Elizabeth Shogren.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: In a 14-page letter to BP, members of the committee detail five shortcuts BP made during the drilling of the well. It concludes that if these findings are correct, the heavy toll on the Gulf and its people can be blamed on BP's carelessness and complacency.
Republican Fred Upton from Michigan asked the chairman and president of BP America, Lamar McKay, about the letter.
Representative FRED UPTON (Republican, Michigan): Do you quibble with any of the findings in this letter?
Mr. LAMAR McKAY (President and CEO, BP America): Yeah, I'm not been able to go through that letter yet.
SHOGREN: McKay's competitors from four other top oil companies found the time to read the letter, and all agreed it seems to confirm that BP operators failed to follow industry standards.
In answer to questions from committee chairman Henry Waxman, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, stressed that his company would not take the same risks.
Mr. REX TILLERSON (CEO, Exxon Mobil): It appears clear to me that a number of design standards, that I would consider be the industry norm, were not followed.
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California; Chairman, House Energy and Commerce Committee): If I could quickly, you think that they made mistakes? The answer you would give would be yes.
Mr. TILLERSON: We would not have drilled the well the way they did.
SHOGREN: Chevron chairman, John Watson, agreed.
Mr. JOHN WATSON (Chairman and CEO, Chevron): Every single Chevron employee and contractor has the authority to stop work immediately if they see anything unsafe.
SHOGREN: Even though the other oil companies tried to distance themselves from BP, some members of Congress tried to paint them with the same brush. For instance, Democrat Ed Markey from Massachusetts pointed out that they all use the same outdated and flawed manual for responding to oil spills in the Gulf.
Representative ED MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Exxon Mobil's Gulf of Mexico oil spill response plan lists walruses under sensitive biological and human resources. As I am sure you know, there aren't any walruses in the Gulf of Mexico and there have not been for three million years.
Mr. TILLERSON: It's unfortunate that walruses were included, and it's an embarrassment that they were included.
SHOGREN: Exxon's Tillerson says that his company puts its emphasis on preventing a spill because it's impossible to adequately respond to one once it happens.
Mr. TILLERSON: When these things happen, we are not well-equipped to deal with them.
SHOGREN: Members of Congress from both parties criticize BP for dramatically understating the amount of oil flowing from the well. Markey repeatedly pressed McKay for an apology, to no avail.
Rep. MARKEY: Please, one final chance, apologize for getting that number wrong.
Mr. McKAY: We are sorry for everything the Gulf Coast is going through. We are sorry for that and the spill.
SHOGREN: McKay's attitude clearly got the ire of many members of Congress. Some asked him to resign. But even that was not enough for Republican Joseph Cao from Louisiana.
Representative JOSEPH CAO (Republican, Louisiana): In the Asian culture, we do things differently. During the samurai days, we just give you a knife and ask you to commit hara-kiri.
SHOGREN: He and other members of Congress say that BP isn't doing enough to compensate people who are suffering because of the spill. They want BP to put billions of dollars in escrow and have an independent panel decide who gets the money.
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.
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