As oil execs admit their spill plans are “embarrassing,” right-wingers slam moratorium

Conservative media figures have attacked President Obama's moratorium on new offshore drilling in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. However, the oil spill response plans for all five major oil companies drilling in the Gulf were written by the same consulting firm, and oil executives have admitted aspects of their plans are “an embarrassment.”

Right-wing pundits blast drilling moratorium

Barnes: “Lift the moratorium on existing drilling.” Prior to President Obama's Oval Office address on June 15, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes appeared on Fox News' Special Report and suggested that President Obama “stop demonizing BP.” He also urged President Obama to “undo the harm that he's already done and lift the moratorium on the existing drilling that was going on in the Gulf.”

Rush Limbaugh called the moratorium “obscene,” “insane,” and “absurd.” On his radio show on June 16, Limbaugh said of the moratorium: It “is obscene, it is insane, it is absurd.” Limbaugh stated that the response is an overreaction to what he called “an imagined volume of destruction.”

Palin: “We still need to drill, baby, drill.” Appearing on the June 12 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, Sarah Palin stated that “we still need to drill baby drill.” Anchor Alisyn Camerota then asked Palin, “the administration has called for a moratorium on deep-sea drilling until that safety can be ensured. Given all of the problems that we now know, how BP overlooked safety measures, do you support a moratorium until we can ensure the safety?” Palin replied, “No, but we do need to ramp up the oversight” of offshore drilling.

All five major oil companies in the Gulf reportedly share similar spill response plans written by same “tiny” company

All five companies reportedly rely on the same companies to draft their response plans and provide containment equipment. According to a June 16 Washington Post report, “the same tiny Texas subcontractor” authored the Gulf spill response plans for BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobil:

The spill response plans for all five companies were written by the same firm, the Response Group. Although it has operations in at least seven cities nationwide, the Houston-based firm's Web site says the company has about 35 employees. (One current assignment: calling 50,000 people who have visited BP offices and getting their e-mail addresses and emergency contact information.)

Additionally, the Post reported that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated that oil companies all rely on one company, Marine Spill Response, to provide containment equipment.

Plans reportedly all rely on “the same reassuring language.” The Post further reported:

The five oil companies submitted these plans -- each more than 500 pages long and each relying on the same reassuring language -- as part of their applications for permits to drill deepwater wells in the gulf. The firms assured the government that they could handle oil spills much larger than the one now threatening the region's environment and economy. And each time, the Minerals Management Service approved the plan and gave the go-ahead for drilling.

Three spill plans reportedly listed the phone number of a deceased marine science expert. According the same Post report, three of the five major oil companies operating in the Gulf “listed the phone number for the same University of Miami marine science expert, Peter Lutz, who died in 2005” in their spill response plans.

Four plans reportedly included provisions to protect walruses which “have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for 3 million years.” The Washington Post article also noted that the companies include provisions “about the need to protect walruses.” However, the article quotes Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) as stating the animals “have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for 3 million years.”

Oil company CEO admits “we are not well equipped to handle” major spills

Exxon Mobil CEO: “We are not well-equipped to handle” major oil spills. In testimony before the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee on June 15, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson stated repeatedly that his company is “not well-equipped to handle” major oil spills:

REP. BART STUPAK: See, my concern is, Mr. Tillerson, then Mr. Mulva (inaudible), Chevron and Shell's worst-case scenario is 200,000 barrels per day, in their response plan. ExxonMobil's is 166,000 barrels per day. That's a lot more than what's currently leaking out into the Gulf.

So, on paper, these plans -- and you are going to rely on these plans -- might seem reassuring, but reality shows you can't prevent the oil from reaching the Gulf shores.

So, Mr. Tillerson, ExxonMobil states in its response to the pre- hearing questions that ExxonMobil is prepared to meet all the commitments in its permits, including those involving a worst-case scenario.

So do you stand by that statement?

TILLERSON: I do, because the permit does not guarantee that the oil will not get to the shore, nor does it guarantee that it will all be contained.

STUPAK: Well, we're at, what, at the most 40,000 barrels today?

TILLERSON: I don't know.

STUPAK: Forty thousand, I think, is what we've been saying, I think, for the record.

So ExxonMobil's worst-case scenario is over 160,000 barrels per day. So how can you say that you'd be able to control a spill that's four times bigger than the current spill using the same plan B.P. has with the same contractors B.P. is using?

TILLERSON: As I've said, Congressman, we would use the response capability to the maximum extent practicable. And in the models that we provide as part of the permitting, which are in conformance with what the regulatory bodies require...

STUPAK: And your plan...


STUPAK: ... is written...


STUPAK: ... by the same contractor that B.P. is. B.P. relied on Marine Spill Response Corporation to provide response equipment, and so does your plan. So if you can't handle 40,000, how are you going handle 166,000 per day, as you indicated?

TILLERSON: The answer to that is, when these things happen, we are not well-equipped to deal with them.

STUPAK: So when these things happen, these worst-case scenarios, we can't handle them, correct?

TILLERSON: We are not well-equipped to handle them. There will be impacts, as we are seeing. And we've never represented anything different than that.

STUPAK: And you've all said...

TILLERSON: And that's why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because, when they happen, we're not very well-equipped to deal with them. And that's just a fact of the enormity of what we're dealing with.

Oil execs acknowledge flaws in plans are an “embarrassment”

Tillerson responded to criticism of the inclusion of a deceased expert's contact information in his company's oil spill response by admitting that “we need expertise.” When Markey questioned Tillerson on the Exxon Mobil plan's inclusion of contact information for a “technical support person” who had been dead for four years, Tillerson acknowledged that it was an “embarrassment” and stated that “we admit that we need expertise.” He further stated that just because “Dr. Lutz died in 2005 does not mean his work and the importance of his work died with him.” From the testimony:

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

ConocoPhillips CEO: “Obviously it is embarrassing” that Lutz's contact information is in the report. At the same hearing, ConocoPhillips CEO, James Mulva said of the response plan's obvious flaws, "[o]bviously it is embarrassing." He further acknowledged that “the plans need to be updated more frequently.” From the hearing:

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: 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.