Oil Men Raked Over the Coals

The key executives of the companies responsible for the titanic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were raked over the coals by members of Congress this week and managed to skillfully dance away and blame each other when the grilling got too hot.

Called to account before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D) of California, were BP America President Lamar McKay; Steven Newman, CEO of well driller Transocean limited; and Halliburton chief health, safety and environmental officer Tim Probert.

In their testimony, all three men appeared simultaneously to accept responsibility for what happened then shift the blame to the other parties. All relied heavily on the fact that critical details regarding the precise cause of the accident are not yet available. Indeed, when asked by several senators about whether certain industry standards for building ocean-based oil rigs were followed, the witnesses indicated several times that they didn’t know the answer or would have to wait for the outcome of what they promised will be a thorough investigation of the disaster.

When cornered into providing an answer as to why accepted safety mechanisms had failed in this case and why there apparently had been no plan to deal effectively with the consequences of the current problem, McKay, Newman and Probst repeated that the nature of the disaster was “unprecedented.”

It wasn’t until Senator Boxer began to read a long list of fines that British Petroleum had to pay out over the years for various violations — including a record $87 million charge in a case involving worker safety — that the tepid atmosphere of the room seemed to shift.

Asked by Boxer if they knew of any new technologies being developed to deal with these kinds of oil spills, all three executives said they were unaware of such developments. With millions of gallons of oil still pouring daily into the Gulf of Mexico, it would seem that is one question to which Americans had better demand an answer.

photo: U.S. Coast Guard

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