Senate hearings prompting spill blame game
The blame game is in full throttle as Congress begins hearings on the massive oil spill threatening sensitive marshes and marine life along the Gulf Coast.
Executives of the three companies involved in the drilling activities that unleashed the environmental crisis are trying to shift responsibility to each other in testimony to be given at separate hearings Tuesday before two Senate committees, even as the cause of the rig explosion and spill has yet to be determined.
Lawmakers are expected to ask oil industry giant BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, why its drilling plans discounted the risk that such a catastrophic pipeline rupture would ever happen, and why it assumed that if a leak did occur, the oil would not pose a major threat.
The morning hearing by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the afternoon session before the Environmental and Public Health Committee give lawmakers their first chance to question the executives publicly about the April 20 rig fire, attempts to stop the flow of oil and efforts to reduce the damage.
Copies of planned testimony, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, brought into the open fissures among the companies caught up in the accident and its legal and economic fallout.
A top executive of BP, which leased the rig for exploratory drilling, focuses on a critical safety device that was supposed to shut off oil flow on the ocean floor in the event of a well blowout but "failed to operate."
"That was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident," Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, says, pointedly noting that the 450-ton blowout protector - as well as the rig itself - was owned by Transocean Ltd.
Of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it was engulfed in flames, only seven were BP employees, said McKay.
But Transocean CEO Steven Newman was seeking to put responsibility on BP.
"Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP," said Newman, according to the prepared remarks. His testimony says it was BP that prepared the drilling plan and was in charge when the drilling concluded and the crew was preparing to cap the well 5,000 feet beneath the sea.
To blame the blowout protecters "simply makes no sense" because there is "no reason to believe" that the equipment was not operational, Newman argues.
Newman also cites a third company, Halliburton Inc., which as a subcontractor was encasing the well pipe in cement before plugging it - a process dictated by BP’s drilling plan.