WASHINGTON — Everyone agrees that something needs to be done. Exactly what, well, that’s a trickier question.
“We all know that accidents happen, but some accidents are simply unacceptable,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said at a Senate hearing Tuesday on the cause of — and response to — the massive April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tuesday saw the first two of many hearings to come on drilling. House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar, who toured the Gulf coast with Klobuchar over the weekend, has pledged to hold hearings on the issue as well.
BP America President Lamar McKay admitted responsibility for the spill and pledged to take every step necessary to make sure the Gulf coast was cleaned up.
“We know that we will be judged by our response to this crisis,” McKay said. “No resource available to this company will be spared. I can assure you that we and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event, and emerge from it stronger, smarter and safer.”
Of course, accepting responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean that McKay was accepting that the spill was BP’s fault exactly, per se. McKay wondered aloud about why the blowout preventer on the TransOcean Deepwater Horizons rig “failed to operate.”
TransOcean President and CEO Steven Newman noted that the rig operator — “in this case BP,” he helpfully added — developed the plans for where and how the drilling would take place. He said a subcontractor, Halliburton, oversaw the cementing process that was designed to prevent oil and gas gushing out of the ocean floor.
Tim Probert, president of global business lines and chief health, safety and environmental officer for Halliburton, who in turn noted that had Halliburton done things its own way (rather than to the operator’s specification) things might have turned out differently.
Klobuchar compared their back-and-forth blame-placing efforts to a group of squabbling children who broke a window while playing baseball and then failing to own up to their mistake.
White House seeks changes
The White House rolled out legislation this morning aimed at responding to economic impacts of massive oil spills. The tab would be picked up by the party responsible for the spill.
Melody Barnes, director of the White House Policy Council, said the bill includes financial assistance for those out of work as a result of the oil spill, including commercial fishers and others, as well nutrition and food aid to those who might require it.
Money would be set aside for additional oil rig inspections and seafood safety testing for affected fisheries.
The bill also lifts the cap on damages retroactively in an effort to make sure tax dollars aren’t covering the costs of responding to this spill, and would increase a tax designated for cleaning up spills from 8 to 9 cents per barrel (One barrel of oil is 42 gallons).
Outside of that legislation, the White House on Tuesday confirmed plans to split in two the agency responsible for regulating drilling. One half would oversee drilling leases and handle revenues, and the other would be a solely regulatory agency, overseeing inspections and ensuring safety regulations are followed.
The future for ‘Drill, baby, drill‘?
Rep. Michele Bachmann is among those who have introduced legislation this session to dramatically expand coastal drilling rights. Her bill and others were already considered dead but, if such a thing is possible (and though the metaphor doesn’t allow), they’re even more dead now.
But while her legislative solution may not move this session, Bachmann said it’s important to not learn the wrong lessons from the Deepwater Horizons explosion and shut down drilling. An investigation into the accident should occur, Bachmann said, but abandoning drilling isn’t the answer.
“We need to access energy here on American soil — whether it’s through natural gas, nuclear, coal or wind or solar or bio[fuels], it doesn’t matter,” Bachmann said. “We have to access energy because before this incident occurred, the price of gas was going up and we knew it was going to get higher.”
“The rest of the world is drilling, Venezuela is drilling right now, and there are new wells going in all over. For the most part it’s been very safe — obviously something went tragically wrong, and that’s why it’s imperative that an investigation be done.
“More than ever, it shows that we have to embrace the ‘all of the above’ strategy where we access energy everywhere we can in the United States. Clearly, something went wrong here, and we have to find out what happened.”
Several Democrats, including Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Ben Cardin of Maryland, delivered exactly the opposite message, calling for an immediate and permanent halt to new drilling off any American coastline.
“Ultimately, what this spill shows is that offshore oil drilling simply cannot be done safely,” Lautenberg said. “If these three companies can’t get it right, no one can.”
“The bottom line is that if you drill in the ocean, oil will spill in the ocean. And all it takes is one major spill to destroy a coastline.”
Cardin agreed, worrying aloud that the Chesapeake Bay and beach resorts on his state’s Eastern Shore would be at risk. “I hope we’ll learn lessons from the Gulf and not put any additional American communities at risk.”