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Oil chiefs say BP spill was 'preventable'

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-15

Oil industry chiefs tried to distance themselves from BP's Gulf of Mexico spill in a tense US Congressional hearing on Tuesday, but admitted all oil companies were ill-equipped to deal with deepwater spills.

AFP - Major rivals of BP on Tuesday blamed lapses by the embattled energy giant for the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe, but admitted to deep flaws in their own plans for handling such a disaster.
   
At a tense congressional hearing in which lawmakers pushed BP America chief Lamar McKay to apologize, resign, or consider committing ritual suicide, top executives from Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell acknowledged that their emergency response blueprints could not have coped with the spill.
   
"That's why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because, when they happen, we're not very well-equipped to deal with them," ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
   
Disbelieving representatives denounced the firms' identical "cookie-cutter" and "virtually worthless" contingency plans, noting several included the telephone number for a marine expert who has been dead since 2005.
   
"Obviously, it is embarrassing," said ConocoPhillips chief James Mulva. "The plans need to be updated more frequently."
   
Democratic Representative Ed Markey, who chaired the hearing, noted that four of the five had Gulf emergency plans that referred to protecting walruses, "which have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for three million years."
   
"It's unfortunate that walruses were included. And it's an embarrassment that they were included," acknowledged Tillerson.
   
Facing tough questioning from lawmakers brandishing the threat of tighter regulations, Tillerson, Mulva, Chevron chief John Watson, and Shell president Marvin Odum questioned BP's judgment in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
   
"I believe the independent investigation will show that this tragedy was indeed preventable," said Watson, who indicated that BP's "failure" to abide by industry-wide safety standards had "dire consequences."
   
"It's not a well that we would have drilled," said Mulva, citing "operational concerns" ahead of the April 20 blast that killed 11 people, sank the rig, and unleashed the worst environmental disaster in US history.
   
The comments left McKay, sitting at the end of a long table he shared with the other witnesses, isolated and bearing the brunt of harsh and sometimes highly personal criticism that escalated throughout the hearing.
   
Markey pressed him to apologize for understating the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf, followed by Republican Representative Cliff Stearns who thundered, "I'm not asking for you to apologize. I'm asking you to resign."
   
"In the Asian culture we do things differently. During the samurai days, we'd just give you a knife and ask to you commit hara-kiri," ritual suicide, said Republican Representative Joseph Cao, who is of Vietnamese descent.
   
McKay sat stoically but with a pained expression on his face, and told lawmakers: "We are sorry for everything the Gulf Coast is going through."
   
US President Barack Obama's Republican foes, meanwhile, slammed his handling of the spill as well as his decision to set a moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling, and accused him of milking the crisis for support for sweeping legislation to battle climate change and boost alternative energy.
   
"Saudi Arabia will be happy. (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez, (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, they'll be popping champagne perhaps," if Gulf drilling dries up, warned Republican Representative Fred Upton.
   
Lawmakers, especially Republicans, from energy-producing states chided the Obama administration for, they said, asking too much from BP while doing too little itself.
   
"If there's anybody, from President Obama on down, who really knows the solution, and can stop that oil from spilling right now, by golly, all they have to do is pick up the phone and tell them what to do," said Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas.
   
The high-stakes fight over whether BP broke from industry safety standards could spell economic disaster for the company: A formal finding of negligence would require the firm to pay for all economic damages from the spill.
   
The company -- which has vowed to pay for all legitimate economic claims from those whose livelihoods have suffered from the disaster -- is already on the hook for all of the cleanup costs.
   
The oil executives' appearance before the panel's energy and environment subcommittee recalled a historic 1994 hearing that saw tobacco industry leaders swear that nicotine was not addictive and that use of their products did not cause disease -- a key turning point against the industry.
  

Date created : 2010-06-15

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