Oil bosses grilled as nation awaits Obama address
BP America chief executive Lamar McKay told angry lawmakers Tuesday that the embattled energy giant was “sorry” for the impact of a disastrous oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.
US lawmakers grilled oil company bosses Tuesday just hours before President Barack Obama was to outline new steps to battle the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in a solemn Oval Office address.
Oil executives rounded on rival BP insisting America’s worst ever environmental disaster could have been prevented if the British energy giant had followed industry-wide safety practices.
Bosses from global oil titans ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Shell took pains to distance themselves at the packed Congress hearing from the unfolding Gulf catastrophe.
“I believe the independent investigation will show that this tragedy was preventable,” Chevron chief executive officer John Watson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
And sitting alongside BP’s Americas chief Lamar McKay, they also sought to reassure skeptical Americans that deepsea drilling is safe.
“An expert, impartial and thorough approach to understanding what happened is crucial because this incident represents a dramatic departure from the industry norm in deepwater drilling,” said ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson.
Obama was Tuesday visiting Florida, one of the four southern states bearing the brunt of the devastating eight-week spill, before his debut Oval Office speech in a prime time 8:00 pm (0000 GMT) address to the nation.
“The president will outline tonight… a plan going forward, to restore the Gulf — not to where it was the day this accident happened, but to restore this Gulf to where it was years ago,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
In a bid to speed up compensation payments for residents facing hardship due to the oil spill, the Obama administration was poised to take over the claims process from BP.
“The best way to prevail on BP is to take the claims process away from BP,” Gibbs told CBS television, amid bitter criticism that BP is dragging its feet.
He warned Obama would either “legally compel” BP or reach a deal with the company for the claims process to be given over to an independent body.
BP has vowed to meet all legitimate claims, but residents say they have been dealt an economic blow with the oil coming at the start of the fishing and tourists seasons and the checks so far distributed do not meet their needs.
US lawmakers have demanded BP set up a 20-billion-dollar escrow fund to pay for the clean-up and economic recovery of the Gulf region, blighted since an April 20 explosion ignited and sank a BP-operated rig off Louisiana.
BP is containing some 15,000 barrels a day from the ruptured wellhead, and has plans to move in more ships and equipment to try to capture roughly the same amount still spewing into the Gulf.
But the under-fire company has warned the spill will not be stopped permanently until it completes drilling on two deepsea relief wells in August.
Amid rising political criticism of his leadership on the oil spill, and as polls show Americans believe he should be doing more, Obama must vow to triumph over what he has called an environmental 9/11.
“I promise you this, that things are going to return to normal,” Obama said in Alamaba on Monday on his fourth visit to the region since April.
In a bid to fulfill his pledge, the Democratic president was also to announce the creation of a “czar” tasked with overseeing the restoration of the region once the spill is contained.
The official will be tasked with overseeing efforts “to increase the health and the vitality of the species there, the wildlife and the natural beauty that we all know is the Gulf of Mexico,” Gibbs said.
BP, which has seen its stock plunge on the bourses, suffered another blow Tuesday with ratings agency Fitch slashing the oil giant’s credit rating by six notches from “AA” to “BBB,” citing the impact of the oil spill.
Obama has summoned BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to the White House for talks on the crisis on Wednesday, expected also to be attended by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.
US lawmakers said in a letter to Hayward Monday that setting up the proposed escrow fund would “do more to improve BP’s public image than the costly public relations campaign your company has launched.”
Gibbs refused to be drawn on how much BP should set aside, but warned the amount should be seen as a down payment for the overall cost of restoring the southern states, set to stretch into tens of billions of dollars.