House Democrats scolded oil company executives Wednesday over the Gulf Coast disaster, mocking their plan to stop the main leak by plugging it with garbage consisting partly of golf balls.
“When we heard the best minds were on the case, we expected MIT and not the PGA,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) during the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.
The companies have failed to significantly stymie the flow of an estimated 5,000 barrels a day since the rig exploded, burned and sank last month, killing 11 workers and triggering an environmental and economic crisis.
Attempts to place a large container over the leak failed, though crews Wednesday were trying a smaller structure. Drilling relief wells is far from complete, and skimming the surface with booms has done little to mitigate the slick.
Several lawmakers besides Markey expressed amazement that no plan was in place to respond to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history.
“What I have a hard time understanding is, three weeks after the explosion, there aren’t better solutions,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.).
The plan to use materials such as shredded tires and golf balls for a high-pressure “junk shot” was ridiculed by several committee members.
“If it works, great,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). “It strikes me, though, as odd that with all the technology we have, golf balls are our best hope.”
Added Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.): “I had to ask my staff whether that was really true or a misprint” when he first read about the plan.
The executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton were also taken to task for blaming each other at a Senate hearing the day before.
“Finger-pointing will not solve this problem,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “I was dismayed at the parsing of words by all parties yesterday.”
Republicans cited a failure of government oversight and said members of the Obama administration including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should have been called as witnesses.
“There’s some serious questions, there’s some serious red flags,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). “I would really like to have Secretary Salazar here.”
Burgess questioned why the application for the ill-fated drilling operation was approved. “Why did federal regulators just rubberstamp this when it crossed their desk?”
The oil company executives were answering a series of mostly technical questions as the hearing continued into the afternoon.
Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean, which was leasing the rig from BP, said in his opening statement that he was proud of his accomplishments in the industry, “but today I sit before you with a heavy heart.”