Economy

Energy Execs' Message To Congress: We're Not BP

Energy Industry CEOs

hide captionFrom left, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Chevron Chairman and CEO John Watson, ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum, and BP America chairman Lamar McKay before the BP-bashing began in earnest.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

One clear message at least some of the energy industry CEOs who testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday wanted to leave with members of Congress was that they aren't BP.

They repeatedly tried to keep daylight between themselves and the British-based energy company whose broken well continues to pollute the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, disrupting the lives of humans and ending the lives of many animals.

John Watson, Chevron's CEO, said:

At Chevron one goal overrides all others:  making sure everyone goes home safe every day. We have multiple systems to prevent a tragedy like the Deepwater Horizon.  Our drilling policies and procedures are rigorous.  We require continuous training. We certify our drilling personnel to ensure they are qualified to manage unusual circumstances, and we verify that contractors have the skills to execute well control.

In other words, we're not BP, was Watson's message.

Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil's CEO, said:

We ensure everyone on board the rig, contractors included, know their roles and responsibilities and that all operations must be in compliance with ExxonMobil's expectations and standards.  And we test this knowledge through regular drills and exercises. Sticking to this system has required us to make some difficult decisions. We do not proceed with operations if we cannot do so safely.

He didn't end that last sentence with the words "like BP." He didn't need to since everyone knew what he was getting at.

Later, during questioning by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, Tillerson took the opportunity to throw BP under the bus or, perhaps more aptly, under the semi-submersible drilling platform.

REP. WAXMAN:  Yesterday, Chairman Stupak and I sent a letter to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, and the letter raised questions about the design and the safety decisions made by BP at its Macondo well.  The letter describes a series of decisions that BP made that seemed to increase the risk of catastrophic blowout.  I'd like to ask each of you whether you think mistakes were made by BP.

Mr. Tillerson?

MR. TILLERSON:  Well, in reviewing the letter that you both sent, it appears clear to me that a number of design standards were — that I would consider to be the industry norm were not followed.

REP. WAXMAN:  So let me go through this, if I could, quickly. You think that they made mistakes.  The answer would — you would give would be yes.

MR. TILLERSON:  We would not have drilled the well the way they did

REP. WAXMAN:  Okay.

And how about you, Mr. Watson?

MR. WATSON:  We've just had a chance to take a look at your letter. It's quite lengthy, of course, with a number of detailed comments.  Our experts are taking a look at it.  I've read it myself, and from what I've seen, it's consistent with what the joint industry task force found, that there — we have an opportunity to raise the bar, if you will, on standards in the industry, and it certainly appears from your letter that not all standards that we would recommend or that we would employ were in place.

REP. WAXMAN:  Does it — do any of you disagree with thestatement that BP made mistakes?  (They indicate no disagreement) Okay 

MR. ODUM:  It's not a disagreement.  It's just a — it's just confirmation that we don't have all the information, but from the information that was in your letter and what we know about the well, a similar statement, that it's not a well that we would have drilled with that mechanical setup, and there are operational concerns.

REP. WAXMAN:  Mr. Watson, you're quoted in The Wall StreetJournal as saying, "This incident was preventable."

MR. WATSON:  Yeah.

REP. WAXMAN:  What mistakes did BP make that you would not have made?

MR. WATSON:  First, we'd — we would say that, as we look at thisincident, we need to let the investigation run its course.  What wehave done is since the first days of this investigation and thisaccident, we've participated in the joint industry task force wherethe industry —

REP. WAXMAN:  Now, you made the statement — you were quoted assaying, "This incident was preventable."

MR. WATSON:  Yeah.

REP. WAXMAN:  What would you have done differently to prevent thedisaster that we've now encountered?

MR. WATSON:  There are several areas that appear, based on theinformation we've seen in the joint industry task force and based onthe information we've been able to gather, that suggest the practices that we would not put in place were employed here.  For —

REP. WAXMAN:  Specifically?

MR. WATSON:  For example, the casing design and mechanical barriers that were put in place appear to be different than what we would use.

It's a safe bet that this congressional testimony will wind up being cited in many of the trials arising from all the lawsuits now being filed against BP.

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