BP Lowballing Oil Flow, Rep. Markey Says

Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs House committees on energy, says BP is vastly understating the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf in order to decrease fines, which are based on the number of barrels leaked per day. Host Scott Simon talks with Markey about his criticism of the oil company and its efforts to contain the oil spreading in the Gulf of Mexico.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Congressman Ed Markey is chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. He has been an outspoken critic of BP. We caught up with him yesterday at his office in the Capitol.

Mr. MARKEY, thanks for being with us.

Representative ED MARKEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: You've said that BP had lowballed its estimates to reduce the amount of money it could be fined by the government. Give us some idea of how much money you might've been talking about.

Rep. MARKEY: Well, I obtained documents from BP this week that showed that they had estimated the spill could be 14,000 barrels a day one week after the accident. And yet the next day BP was saying that it was still only one thousand barrels a day. Now, that's important because as these estimates get higher and higher, the actual fine under the law is per barrel of oil per day.

And right now if the maximum penalty is applied at the levels that we're now talking about, BP could be fined in excess of $2 billion. And I think that right from the beginning, either through incompetence or prevarication, they were trying to lowball how big this actual spill is.

SIMON: You know, BP often points out that they really have been doing everything they can to stop the flow of oil, because after all, it's their oil, it's their money that's washing away.

Don't they have a compelling economic interest in doing everything they can to cap that well and staunch the flow of oil?

Rep. MARKEY: Now they do, yes. But in the days and weeks and years heading up to this catastrophic incident, they had not put in place the safe guides that would've on the one hand prevented it from happening, by not lobbying to exempt themselves from additional safety procedures. And two, they would've had in place on an emergency basis the capacity to move in, not 38 days or 39 days later, but in the first few days, the kind of equipment that could shut down this week.

SIMON: Was there also a failure of oversight?

Rep. MARKEY: I think that the MMS clearly had too cozy a relationship with the oil industry in general and BP in particular. I think the history of this going back to 2007, with the approval by MMS of drilling in this particular part of the ocean, really does not leave a very pretty picture.

SIMON: But it's irresistible to notice, though, Congressmen, that the entire Louisiana congressional delegation, including Democrats, some of your colleagues in Congress, are very much in favor of drilling continuing.

Rep. MARKEY: I can understand why the Louisiana delegation wants to continue drilling, but there will be no new drilling until the lessons learned from this are put in place in order to make sure that there is never a repetition.

SIMON: But what about people in Louisiana? And I emphasize again, Democrats as well as Republicans, who are saying, look, it's the federal government that is supposed to protect the coastlines. It's BP's responsibility maybe to pay for everything and to stop the spillage, but there should have been more resources out there trying to skim the oil from the surface, break it up, to try and - if not prevent, at least diminish this catastrophe as much as possible.

Rep. MARKEY: The problem is that BP last year in an application to drill out in the very same area of the Gulf, represented that they had in place the capacity to deal with a spill of 250,000 barrels per day. And it turns out that they did not have that. The oil industry did not have that. The preparations had not been put in place, even though BP legally certified that they had that capacity.

As a result, BP is scrambling. But the federal government is also being forced to put together resources as well, along with state and parish executives to try to deal with this mess right now.

SIMON: Congressman Ed Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Thanks so much for being with us.

Rep. MARKEY: Thank you for having me on.

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