BP, Obama Administration Blunder through Oil Spill

Published June 17, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill would not have happened if BP had followed established industry safety procedures, oil executives from other companies told Congress in June 15 testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. At the same time, documents were released showing the Obama administration rejected valuable assistance from other nations who were equipped and prepared to contain and clean up much of the oil spill before it threatened Gulf shores.

BP Violations Cited
Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson told Congress the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon would not have happened if BP had followed established safety procedures.

The incident “represents a dramatic departure from the industry norm” for deepwater drilling procedures, said Tillerson in written testimony to the House committee.

Chevron CEO John Watson agreed, saying, “The Deepwater Horizon accident tragically reinforces that all companies must operate with the same high standards of safety and reliability. It is clear that failure to do so has dire consequences.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) sent BP CEO Tony Hayward a letter expressing outrage at five important choices BP made in the days preceding the Deepwater Horizon explosion that they said placed cost-cutting ahead of industry safety standards.

“The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a tradeoff between cost and well safety,” the Waxman-Stupak letter said. “Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense.”

Obama Rejected Vital Help
Meanwhile, the June 8 Houston Chronicle reported that just three days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Dutch government offered to deploy oil-skimming booms and build sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands in the Gulf. The Obama administration inexplicably declined such assistance.

Seven weeks later the Obama administration finally swallowed its pride and accepted Dutch help. By that time, however, the oil spill had long since passed the point of feasible containment.

“Even if, three days after the rig exploded, it seemed as if the Dutch equipment and expertise wasn’t needed, wouldn’t it have been better to accept it, to err on the side of having too many resources available rather than not enough?” the Chronicle observed.

Obama Ignored Precedent
A key reason the Obama administration refused vital help from other nations was the application of the Jones Act, a 1920 law designed to revive the U.S. economy after World War I, which requires all work ships in U.S. waters to be domestically built and employ a crew consisting solely of U.S. citizens. President Bush waived the Jones Act to accelerate the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, but Obama declined to do so in response to the Gulf Oil Spill.

“The Act is preventing the world’s best clean-up ships and experts from helping to eradicate the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico,” reported the June 14 Miami Examiner.

International Relations Strained
Relations with Europe, and Britain in particular, took a beating as the Obama administration placed the blame for the ongoing oil disaster solely on BP.

London Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to the Obama administration’s “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name calling” and noted the danger Obama’s attitude posed to British pensioners.

“When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP and its share price, and the vital importance of BP, then I do think it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great UK company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves,” Johnson told the London Evening Standard (June 10).

Obama, BP Double Down
The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) on June 11 called on environmental activist groups to return the contributions they have received from BP, which has been a high-profile supporter and funder of activist causes. A June NCPPR press statement specifically named the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute, various branches of the Audubon Society, the Wildlife Habitat Council, and others as recipients of major gifts from BP.

While NCPPR called on the groups to return the BP money, BP doubled down on its environment activist connections, employing the notorious Podesta Group, a Washington DC lobbying company formed by the CEO of the activist group Center for American Progress, to lobby Congress and the Obama administration on its behalf.

President Rewards BP
Siding with a position held by BP and the Podesta Group, Obama launched a major public relations offensive claiming the best response to the oil spill would be to enact cap-and-tax legislation to restrict carbon dioxide restrictions. BP has long lobbied for such legislation, believing the restrictions would give it a competitive advantage over other companies because of its natural gas and alternative energy projects. The Center for American Progress is likewise a longtime supporter of carbon dioxide restrictions.

“The chutzpah of the Obama administration knows no bounds. They now say the best response to BP’s appalling dereliction of industry safety standards is to give BP the very gift it has spent the last decade lobbying for—cap-and-tax restrictions that will give the BP rent-seekers an undeserved economic windfall while strangling their safety-conscious competitors,” Heartland Institute science director Jay Lehr said.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.