Members of Congress chastised the largest oil companies Wednesday, saying they are no better prepared to avoid an environmental catastrophe than BP was when its well exploded, unleashing millions of barrels of crude.
With top oil company executives waiting to testify at a House hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman asserted that the companies’ spill response plans amounted to “paper exercises” that mirrored BP’s failed plan. Their strategies to plug a spill deep beneath the sea are the same failed strategies that have stymied BP, the California Democrat said.
The other companies “are no better prepared to deal with a major oil spill than was BP,” said Waxman, setting the tone for a tense hearing.
One lawmaker after another expressed frustration at BP’s inability to stop oil gushing from its stricken well as the chief executives representing ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell — as well as BPAmerica — sat shoulder to shoulder at the witness table.
Waxman’s underlying, longtime agenda: War on Big Oil.
BP may be first in the line of fire, but experts said the whole industry will be on trial Tuesday. Executives from BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron are scheduled to testify.
“I’m not sure the industry has grasped how much this is going to hurt them in the long run,” one energy lobbyist told POLITICO. “They’re still seeing this as a BP problem. That’s not a good place for them to be.”
The bottom line: Oil Week in Washington — complete with CEO testimony, a presidential address to the nation and the release of damaging documents about BP’s safety record — may represent a turning point in the way the public views the domestic oil industry if Waxman and the White House succeed in their efforts. Longtime environmentalists like Waxman see the oil spill crisis as their moment to put the industry on its heels after decades of having its way on Capitol Hill — much like Waxman did with the tobacco industry in the 1990s.
Waxman has been assiduously building his case against Big Oil for years, and now he has the documents and the forum to carry on his mission. On Monday, Waxman released a scathing 14-page letter to Hayward that outlined his charge that BP sacrificed safety for profit and cut corners on drilling procedures.
Industry and government sources expect that the other oil company executives — including those from Exxon, Conoco and Chevron — will echo the charge that BP cut corners, further isolating the company at the center of the oil spill. The strategy for these other companies is to help Waxman throw BP down the well in hopes of appeasing him…
Silly companies. There’s no appeasing Torquemada.