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Big Oil’s Collective Responsibility

Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) and his colleagues, got an earful of excuses and an eyeful of blank stares from the heads of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP, and Shell Oil as the bosses appeared before the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce.

Appearing later on CNN, Waxman reported that the executives “all said they thought they could handle a disaster of the magnitude of what’s happened in the Gulf.” “BP clearly took shortcuts that increase the risks of what happened” Waxman said. “This is gross negligence. “

What obviously shook Waxman and other committee members was the discovery that every oil company represented seemed to have the same familiar strategy when approaching oil spills. “All they have is a plan that some consultant wrote for them the same as BP,” Waxman said.

The company heads admitted there have been no substantive changes since the 1960s in the technology they used to fight oil spills. The frightening implication is that, when faced with another large spill, oil companies would use the same strategy that has spelled devastation in the Gulf.

When Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil was pressed by committee member Bart Stupack on how they could handle a new spill admitted finally, “we are not well equipped to handle them. There will be impacts.”

Waxman and other committee members facing the media after the hearing expressed their dismay at the reaction of the company heads when they were asked if they are familiar with the Ixtoc oil spill. All of the seated execs just silently shook their heads and stared into space. Ixtoc I was an exploratory oil well being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979 when it suffered a blowout, resulting in the second largest accidental oil spill in history.

By now, the disdain the oil companies have for the representatives of the American people is obvious. All of this begs the question: why don’t the nations of the world demand that the majors accept the collective responsibility they have to insure that another incident like what’s happened in the Gulf cannot occur? The technology of the 1960s cannot protect our coastlines, our livelihoods, our wildlife. The big oil companies should acknowledge the public outrage they have earned by forming a coalition that will utilize its financial resources to develop the technological innovations capable of addressing such disasters.

photo: Deepwater Horizon Response