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Gulf oil spill: Senators criticize oil companies

May 11, 2010 |  9:42 am


The blood, er, oil flew this morning even before oil executives at the Senate hearings into the ongoing Gulf of Mexico spill began to testify. Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate energy committee were criticizing industry officials and government regulators of failing to safeguard against the blowout leak, which has been gushing thousands of barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico following the late April sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The senators also blasted executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton for pointing fingers at one another over the cause of the disaster. "I can see the liability chase that's going to go on," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said, adding that he was looking forward to the panel of company executives that is still to come "to see who's going to fess up to what."

Senators have spared little vitriol for the industry or their government regulators. A sampling: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M), head of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said: "I don't believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure as an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence. I don't believe it is adequate to simply chalk what happened up to a view that accidents just happen. If this is like other catastrophic failures of technological systems in modern history -- whether it was the sinking of the Titanic, Three Mile Island, or the loss of the Challenger -- we will likely discover that there was a cascade of failures: technical, human and regulatory."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the committee's top Republican: "Many times I have said that there are words and then there are actions -- and actions necessarily have consequences. Hopefully, all actions associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident were in good faith and compliant with our laws. If that is not the case, there will be no excuse."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wondered if years of successful drilling in the gulf had led to "laxity or complacency" among regulators and industry. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho): "It seems to me that we have been totally unprepared to respond to this ... that really doesn't surprise me, that the government is not able to respond to this."

And Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked why the government allowed industry to drill "with near-certainty that blowouts would occur, without adequate backup devices. Why?"

The oil company execs are up now.

-- Jim Tankersley

Photo: Left to right, Lamar McKay, BP president, Steven Newman, president of Transocean Limited and Tim Probert, president of Halliburton. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press