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Oil Execs Grilled On Copycat Emergency Plans

Jun 15, 2010

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Earlier, I posted on how the top energy industry execs who testified before House lawmakers Tuesday came in with the game plan, judging from what they said, to distance themselves from BP.

Which made it somewhat inconvenient that lawmakers kept harping on the fact that all the companies essentially had the same emergency oil-spill response plan for an accident in the Gulf of Mexico as BP.

They all apparently contracted with the same company for the plan, with its absurd reference to how the plan would handle affected walruses (there aren't any in the Gulf) and its inclusion of a scientist who's been dead for years as a go-to expert in the event of a spill.

This made for what had to be some of the most uncomfortable minutes for the oil execs, with Rep. Ed Markey, chairman of the House subcommittee holding the hearing, and one of BP's most vocal critics, toying with them the way a cat does a mouse.

As I mentioned in my opening statement, the Gulf of Mexico response plans for ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell are virtually identical to BP's and just as deficient.

As you can see by looking at the covers for these five plans — on the screen and over my head — the pictures are the same for each plan.  All that is changed is the color of the cover of the plan from each of the companies seated at the table.

Mr. Tillerson, like BP, on page 11-6 of your plan, ExxonMobil's Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response Plan lists walruses under sensitive biological and human resources. As I am sure you know, there aren't any walruses in the Gulf of Mexico and there have not been for 3 million years.

How can ExxonMobil have walruses in their response plan for the Gulf of Mexico?

MR. TILLERSON:  Congressman Markey, those response plans in corporate a number of broad-based studies — marine mammal studies, many of which are part of the EIS, the EIA statements that are put together by the MMS. And much of the response plan, and what is contained in it, is prescribed by regulation, including the modelsthat are used to project different scenarios for oil spills.  And manyof the statements and representations that are in the plan —

REP. MARKEY:  These are regional —

MR. TILLERSON:  I understand.  

REP. MARKEY:  — oil spill response plans.  How can —

MR. TILLERSON:  They refer —

REP. MARKEY:  — walruses be in a response plan for the Gulf of Mexico?  This is the regional response plan —

MR. TILLERSON:  I understand the question.

REP. MARKEY:  — that each of you had to put together.

MR. TILLERSON:  And it's unfortunate that walruses were included.And it's an embarrassment that they were included, but that's part ofa larger marine mammal study that is used in — that's used inpreparing regional response plans.

REP. MARKEY:  Mr. Mulva, your plan as well includes walruses.  
Mr. Watson, your plan has them on page 11-6.  How do you respond to having walruses in your plan?

MR. WATSON:  (Off mike) — respond in a similar fashion.  The plans are put together in response to guidelines from the Minerals Management Service —

REP. MARKEY:  Do you agree that it's an embarrassment to have walruses in a response plan for the Gulf of Mexico —

MR. WATSON:  Certainly, in the —

REP. MARKEY:  — Mr. Watson?

MR. WATSON:  — Gulf of Mexico, that's not appropriate.

REP. MARKEY:  Mr. Mulva, do you agree it's an embarrassment to have it in a plan to respond to a crisis in the Gulf of Mexico?

MR. MULVA:  I agree.  It's not appropriate to include for that region.

REP. MARKEY:  In your response plan, Mr. Tillerson, as well as some of the other plans, including ConocoPhillips's, there is a Dr.Lutz who is referred to as an expert, a technical support person.  Mr. Lutz died in 2005, four years before the plan was actually filed.

How, Mr. Tillerson, can you justify in your response plan having aperson who has been dead for four years?  Is that also anembarrassment?How, Mr. Tillerson, can you justify in your response plan having aperson who has been dead for four years?  Is that also an embarrassment?

MR. TILLERSON:  Well, it is.  But let me point out that Dr. Lutz was part of the University of Miami's Marine Mammal Research Division,which has been an important resource for preparation of these plans for years.  The fact that Dr. Lutz died in 2005 does not mean his work and the importance of his work died with him.  There are many other individuals identified in the plan —

REP. MARKEY:  No, I appreciate —

MR. TILLERSON:  — (inaudible) — more contact.  And we admit that we need expertise.

REP. MARKEY:  It's 2010.

MR. TILLERSON:  Those numbers are all valid that are in the plan.

REP. MARKEY:  It's 2010.  It just seems to me that when you include Dr. Lutz's phone number in your plan for response, that you have not taken this responsibility seriously.

Mr. Mulva, the same is true for you.  Is it an embarrassment to ConocoPhillips to have that as part of your plan?

MR. MULVA:  Well, the plans need to be updated more frequently.What's important is the institution. That's who we refer to for support.  Obviously it is embarrassing. But we really look towards the institution and not necessarily the individual.

REP. MARKEY:  It just seems to me that for each of your companies, the only technology you seem to be relying upon is a Xerox machine to put together your response plans, that there wasn't enough effort put together to ensure that in the Gulf, if a catastrophe occurred, that you would be able to respond.

Of course, all these emergency plans were presumably approved by regulators at the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service.

So apparently the companies weren't alone in cutting corners.

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