“I Dunno”

BP’s Tony Hayward has been harshly criticized for feigning ignorance during recent Senate hearings on the Gulf oil spill.  Only later did we learn that he had been removed from charge of stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.

 

Neither he nor “Captain Kickass” Obama have demonstrated leadership during this crisis.  What if he had said –

 

“I am the Chief Executive Officer of British Petroleum, and have been in the Gulf since shortly after this thing happened, trying to lead the effort to stop the leak and minimize and mitigate the damage.  Please tell me how my presence here, in chambers in Washington, DC in any way expedites that process.

 

As I stated, I am CEO, and am thus far removed from daily minutiae and critical technical decisions.  It is not my job to make those decisions, but is that of the technical people who function in that capacity.  Again, making those decisions is not my job, thus I am not familiar with them at the level of detail you seem to expect of me.  Absence of that knowledge does not constitute failure on my part.

 

My job is not to make critical technical decisions, but rather my job is to establish policy, and to foster a culture in which the safety of our personnel, our equipment and our processes always take precedence over the cost or schedule of those operations.  In that sense I have failed miserably, save for the fact that such was not the culture that our Board and its Chairman truly wanted.  I did the job they wanted done, and quite well.

 

Let me explain.  Lord Browne wanted BP to move away from being exclusively an oil company.  He wanted us to move into renewables and carbon trading.  That’s why we contributed to Mr. Obama’s campaign; his energy platform was consistent with our business plan.  But as such, the company and I were not focused on the exploration program.  This is purely speculative on my part, but I would suspect that those still engaged in the drilling programs felt threatened, and with Macondo over budget and behind schedule, they possibly took some shortcuts that had worked safely in the past.

 

Nothing that occurs in this chamber will in any way alter the events of the last 60 days.  This hearing is a circus, an opportunity for each and every one of you to suggest to your constituents that you personally will get to the bottom of this crisis, fix it, restore the damage, and instill measures that assure it will never happen again.  While I’ve been a spectacular failure in this regard thus far, your efforts and those of your president have only served to make this problem more unsolvable, more litigious, more fraught with legal hazard and more divisive

 

You see, I do understand the political game and how it’s played.  You don’t rise to the top of a major corporation without successfully playing politics.  Of course, I suspect that none of you would know that, as few, if any, of you has ever run a major corporation or any other kind of business.

 

Now, how can you criticize me for not knowing details of the decisions that were made on a solitary drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20?  You don’t even know the details of the legislation you pass!

 

You have only hindered my efforts to mitigate the damages from this leaking well.  You refused the help of numerous countries and corporations who offered equipment and expertise, because you’d have had to waive your “Jones Act” which protects your union supporters.  Louisiana’s Governor Jindal asks for approval to build sand berms to block the inevitable flow of spilled oil and its unprecedented damage to his coastline, and your Corps of Engineers wants to study the environmental impact until that oil is in the marshes.  What has been and will be the environmental impact of the environmental impact studies?  Barges with skimming equipment are finally allowed to enter the Gulf and begin removing oil from the surface of the water, and your Coast Guard stops the operation to inspect for life jackets?  Your EPA orders us to stop using the only sufficiently available EPA approved dispersant to break up the spill?

 

Dispersants have been used on oil spills for a very long time, and are an accepted means of breaking up the spill so that nature can degrade and consume the oil more quickly.  I would be remiss, though, if I failed to acknowledge that dispersants make it much more difficult to quantify the magnitude of the spill, and we are subject to fines of $4300 for every spilled barrel that can be measured.  It was in BP’s best interest to disperse as much of the oil as possible, as well as to downplay the estimated leakage rate.

 

You know, the Deepwater Horizon was actually cited for a number of safety violations by your Minerals Management Service under the previous administration, while under the present administration we were presented with a safety award.  You hands are not clean in this, either.

 

And why are we drilling in over 1500 metres of water?  Because we want to?  No, committee, it’s because we are not allowed to drill on land and shallow waters where blowouts such as this one can be quickly and easily stopped.  Now I will grant you that there is a great deal of oil in deep water formations.  Exploration companies want it, and the world needs it, but the technology to harvest it safely is obviously not ready today.  Your environmental policy created this situation, not BP’s safety policy.

 

Now you have the audacity to criticize me for not knowing when the battery was changed in the blowout protector switch?  Excuse me, but I have a job to do which I’m not even sure some of you want done.”

 

All of those things need to be said.  Since he’s going down anyway, it would have been nice for him to have said them.

 

“And oh, Senator Waxman, I wish we’d had some of your nose hairs when we attempted the junk shot.  She might have worked.”

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