MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Today on Capitol Hill, executives from five major oil companies, including BP, faced a grilling from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Chairman Henry Waxman's committee uncovered internal BP documents as part of its investigation. The memos and emails show BP knew about several problems at the Deepwater Horizon rig and ignored safety recommendations.
Earlier today, I spoke with the California congressman and I asked him why BP went ahead with the drilling operation despite the warning signs.
NORRIS: These memos and emails and other documents that we put together illustrate all the opportunities that BP had to make a decision that could have avoided the high risk that ended, of course, being disastrous.
It doesn't indicate who made the decision, although in one significant case there was an email where the fellow said, well, we didn't do what was recommended, but that's it. It's done, and we think it'll work out, something to that effect.
But, otherwise, what the letter we sent and the memo we put together illustrates that there were a number of occasions when they could have avoided what happened. Instead, in each and every case, they took the path that was the least costly and fastest for them, therefore, obviously, more profitable, and that resulted in an excessive risk, and risks that they shouldn't have taken, and a risk that they lost when the rig blew up.
NORRIS: So if they systematically took the path that was least costly and more profitable, what does it say about our regulatory system, that they were allowed to do this in darkness and, ultimately, take actions that led to this kind of disaster?
NORRIS: I'm sure that when they asked for permission from the MMS at the Department of Interior to go ahead and drill, they had a plan that they were going to do it in the way that the industry would have accepted, in the way that their own people were urging them to do.
One would have expected they would have set out in a general statement that they plan to follow all the proper procedures, but when it came down to it, they didn't follow the proper procedures. They didn't have the well as safely constructed as possible. They didn't do some of the tests that could have predicted that they were going to have trouble.
As a result, they cut corners and ended up with a tremendous disaster. In fact, one of the industry people that contacted us said that this was horribly negligent.
NORRIS: What does this suggest in terms of the kind of investigation that should ensue this disaster? Does it suggest that a criminal investigation is in order? Does it suggest that more than just the top leadership at BP should be under intense examination and perhaps investigation?
NORRIS: Well, I think they ought to be under intense investigation. If they were grossly negligent, they may well have been criminally negligent and they certainly should be held responsible. In many cases, they had choices. And the choice that they refused to take were the choices that their own industry said were the preferred choices, or their contractors told them they should take.
And we pointed out in five different cases - almost clearly a pattern - ignored the things that they should have done to minimize the risk and took the steps that cut corners, saved them money, saved them time and then cost us, as a society, the disaster that we're now facing.
NORRIS: So you're saying that these memos and these emails indicate that BP systematically put profit over safety, but BP is now responsible for fixing this problem, and, you know, they're taking the lead in trying to cap this well and clean up the Gulf. Why should we trust that they'll be able to do this?
NORRIS: Well, we have to make sure that they pay whatever the costs are involved in all of the damage that's resulted from their actions. And in the cleanup area, we're still waiting, after more than a month, for them to figure out how to cap this well.
And the interesting thing is that all the procedures that they are relying on now is part of what the whole oil industry is relying on. Each oil company had the same plan, saying after they said they can deal with a leak should it happen, their plans to deal with the leak are all the same as BP's.
We would hope with greater success, but that doesn't make you comfortable that they really know how to deal with the problem and they have a backup that's really going to work.
NORRIS: Congressman Waxman, thank you very much for your time.
NORRIS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Henry Waxman. He's the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.