House Lawmakers Grill Oil Executives After Gulf Spill

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About 10 bipartisan House members grilled executives from BP, Halliburton and Transocean behind closed doors for two hours Tuesday about the causes of last month’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, compared the appearance of the executives to “a deer in headlights.”

“We asked a lot of questions,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “We did not get all the answers.”

None of the executives from the three firms who worked with the rig commented to reporters after the session. Transocean owned the rig and leased it to BP. Halliburton provided services at sea. But despite a trio of firms, Markey suggested that BP held the most responsibility for the calamity.

“BP is now known as British Petroleum,” Markey said, saying that if the leak isn’t shut off soon “it will be known as Bayou Polluter.”

The House plans a comprehensive hearing next week to examine what went wrong April 20 when the rig exploded, killing 11 workers. But this session was the first congressional effort to investigate what happened and what caused the giant oil slick that threatens American shores. The slick is already imperiling the Gulf Coast’s fishing economy.

Lawmakers from both sides said they felt they received straightforward answers from the executives. But Markey was skeptical since this was the first crack Congress had gotten with the industry officials.

“We are not accepting any assurances in this meeting as the definitive account,” said Markey. “That’s going to be part an investigation for some time.”

The Massachusetts Democrat noted that the executives couldn’t give a specific timeframe as to when all of the leaks would be capped. He said the executives were “in complete control of the information” for this discussion.

“I think their responses were unsatisfactory,” added Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

Meantime, Rep. Michael Burges, R-Texas, expressed concern about the role of the Obama administration in the accidental oil spill. He wants to know about the involvement of the Interior Department in drilling before the April explosion.

“That too is going to be a part of our investigation,” Burgess said. “I’m disappointed that no one from the administration is scheduled to be at our hearing.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Burgess and Barton wrote a letter to the top Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, imploring the chairman of the panel to call key administration officials to the May 12 hearing.

“We respectfully ask that you invite the Secretary of Interior to provide such information necessary to enable the committee to examine the agency’s role in permitting and in performing inspections prior to the incident,” Burgess and Barton wrote.

For the time being, the Obama administration has suspended any new offshore drilling programs until it gets to the bottom of this accident. However, Barton cautioned against a potential chilling effect imposed by the administration.

“I don’t want a mass hysteria to take hold and we put a moratorium on new drilling and existing production,” Barton said. “We don’t need to federalize every issue today.”

Still, Markey had particular questions about how the energy firms operated the rig and while their emergency procedures failed.

“There is going to be a blistering, scalding indictment of the practices the industry was engaged in,” Markey said. “

Barton was a little softer on the industry. But said he agreed with his colleague about making sure appropriate safety procedures were in effect to prevent future disasters.

“I’m not yet willing to issue any scalding indictments,” Barton said. “I am a proponent of drilling on the Outer Continental