Oil Chiefs Hammered in House Energy Hearing

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment yesterday held a public flogging of oil company chiefs of five major oil companies all having ongoing deep water drilling operations worldwide.

The witness list was impressive:

    * Rex Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ExxonMobil
    * John Watson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chevron Corporation
    * James Mulva, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ConocoPhillips
    * Lamar McKay, President and Chairman, BP America, Inc.
    * Marvin Odum, President, Shell Oil Company

The behavior of some of our members of Congress was not.

One particularly embarrassing display of arrogance and ignorance (found at 2:05:00 in the hearing VIDEO) came from cap and trade national energy tax bill co-author and subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D- Mass.) when he demanded an apology from BP America chairman McKay for releasing incorrect numbers on the volume of the spill early on — numbers the government, not BP, is responsible for calculating.  When McKay pointed out first estimates were Unified Area Command estimates calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — the federal government — Markey only shrieked louder for the apology.

CHAIRMAN ED MARKEY:  The onus, the burden, the responsibility is on your shoulders.  You had the technology.  You were able through your expertise to make this determination.  I do believe it’s either deliberate deception or gross incompetence because ultimately the amount of boom, skimmers, cleanup of the beaches and marshes and rescue of birds and turtles – the capacity which you needed in order to capture the oil coming out of that spill, testing for the health of the workers – it was all dependent on how large the spill was.  Are you ready to apologize for getting that number so grossly wrong that the capacity of federal and state governments to put in place a response was delayed because you did not do the job?

CHAIRMAN LAMAR MCKAY:  I will just reiterate what Commandant [Admiral Thad] Allen said it was that those were not BP estimates.  They were Unified Command estimates.

MARKEY:  They were your cameras at the bottom of the ocean!  You got it wrong, Mr. McKay.  Your company got it wrong!  BP got it wrong!

MCKAY: We have provided every bit of data we’ve got to the Unified Area Command with government scientists and government MMS, NOAA, Coast Guard to help them understand what data we have.

MARKEY:  On the day that you are ready to apologize —

MCKAY:  What’s that?

MARKEY:  On the day that you are ready to apologize, that is the day that we can begin to move forward and put together the kinds of plans that make sure this never happens again.  

McKay then did apologize for the spill and everything for the people in the Gulf region are going through — but reiterated that the estimates on the size of the spill were government estimates.

Markey was trying to blame BP for the administration’s part in the slow response.  It didn’t work.

There is strong Congressional leadership on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster crisis on display at the hearing.  Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) aggressively pursued relevant answers and solutions in his robust questioning of the five oil chiefs.

Scalise took the BP America chairman to task for remarks that the spill response has been “pretty effective” saying that he’d just been on the scene in Grand Isle, one of the epicenters of the oil contamination.

“We don’t want to sit back and wait until the oil comes in to clean it up.  In some cases you may not be able to clean it up for years,” Scalise told McKay. “We want to be proactive and we’ve been submitting plans.  In fact, 75 percent of the plans submitted by our governor to have these sand barriers in place still have not been approved.  So when you hear local officials saying they’re spending more time dealing with fighting BP and the federal government than fighting the oil, that’s not what I would classify as ‘pretty effective’ so please go back and redouble efforts and do everything you can to work with our local leaders who have plans.”

Scalise also revealed in his questioning that since the firing of MMS Director Liz Birnbaum, no one from MMS has been before the committee to provide answers.  Birnbaum was fired after testimony admitting a father-son union inspection team were the last inspectors on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The full subcommittee hearing, written testimony, video and documentation can be found HERE on the committee website.