BP CEO Tony Hayward, in reference to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and resulting oil spill, told Congress on Thursday, "I am deeply sorry." This is another apology, joining a long list of botched apologies to date. Most Americans, however, are ready to get beyond words of remorse. They want to know what actions the oil giant will take next.
Yesterday, BP officials and President Barack Obama had an extended meeting that resulted in a $20 billion claims response fund. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), said yesterday was the day "the page began to be turned." Most congressmen — with some glaring exceptions — says it's just the beginning.
Hayward said — in a calm (though stiff) opening address — that $95 million have been paid out to date in mitigation. The company helped to establish an independent claims facility to process claims for losses, part of the recently revealed $20 billion fund. The company also initiated its own investigation. Hayward admitted that it's "too early to say" what the results from BP's investigation mean and that a complete understanding awaits the results of multiple outside investigations.
This isn't to discount what the company has done so far in terms of cleanup. It's interesting that BP was not the lone actor in the management and running of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, but that fact has faded to a footnote. The company didn't have a good plan B; the company cut corners. But BP partnered with Transocean, the contractors in charge of the drilling well operations and overall rig safety.
Transocean may be just as much to blame, if not more so, but its financial liability is incredibly limited by a convenient contract clause; Transocean would only be liable if it was determined that it was the "sole" actor in the blowout. It's likely that no one will get a dime from the Swiss-based company because that requirement is a high evidentiary standard to meet.
It makes sense, then, that the focus has remained on BP. Don't ask about the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency charged with overseeing oil rig operations in the Gulf. The agency only has a handful of regulations concerning investigations of accidents like this one. The Department of Interior has expressed its displeasure with the agency's limited oversight, so changes may soon follow — though not quick enough. This isn't to say that BP shouldn't shoulder the majority of the blame, because it should. (Blame should also fall to the company's legal staff for accepting such ridiculous contract clauses.) Pointing fingers doesn't do anyone any good ... but it does make most people feel better.
The June 17 hearing had a highly partisan tone, including Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) claims that any intrusive questioning of the industry is akin to a "shakedown."
Words can't express the mortification his utterance caused, but it is a clear reminder why Republicans are commonly accused of being in industry's pockets.
What else are Americans to think when members like Barton are more concerned with improving industry's public persona and not standing with their colleagues in questioning and determining how constituents will deal with this event? Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) took Hayward to task about his awareness (or lack thereof) regarding safety measures and oversight of the Deepwater Horizon rig. It was a direct line of question leaving party politics behind for a glimmer of a moment. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked pointed questions about procedures and decisions, which Hayward stumbled over and ultimately avoided answering. The BP CEO failed to commit to a basic knowledge or even his own perceptions regarding BP's decision-making processes concerning the rig's safety and drilling methods.
Moving beyond this event will be difficult, slow and — in some ways — impossible in our lifetimes. The effects will reverberate for years, even when all the oil is visibly gone.
It's difficult to remember — though essential to moving forward — that this as a chance to improve the relationship between the environment and the energy industry. Environmentalists, members of Congress and people of all political persuasions are at an interesting crossroads. They can actively decide to modify existing laws and create comprehensive response plans, and they can do so together.
In the fouled waters of the Gulf lies the shimmer of opportunity. It must be taken. This is not a choice, nor a request, but a necessity.