20100615 oil executives 35
From left, Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, John Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron, James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Company, and Lamar McKay, chairman and president BP America, Inc. listens to questions from members while participating in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. - 


Kai Ryssdal:BP says the lightning strike this morning on the ship that's collecting the oil from the leaking well started "a small fire on-board." Nobody was hurt, but they did have to stop actually collecting oil for about five hours. On Capitol Hill this morning at about the same time as that lightning strike, CEOs of some of the world's biggest oil companies were doing all they could to avoid being hit by congressional thunderbolts. They defended their commitment to safety and accountability and took every opportunity to blame BP for ignoring the same.

Marketplace's Rob Schmitz reports.

Rob Schmitz: Rex Tillerson, the dapper head of Exxon, summed-up the rest of the industry's response to the BP spill in a cool reply to a congressional panel today.

Rex Tillerson: We would not have drilled the well the way they did.

But in the course of questioning, it became clear that some of the companies have one thing in common: They've copied each other's disaster plan. Among other things, they cut marine life affected by Alaska's Valdez spill and pasted it onto the Gulf of Mexico, as Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey pointed out to a visibly embarrassed Rex Tillerson.

Ed Markey: Exxon Mobil's Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response Plan lists walruses under sensitive biological and human resources. As I am sure you know, there aren't any walruses in the Gulf of Mexico and there have not been for three million years.

These carbon-copied disaster plans for 2009 also listed the phone number of a consultant who's been dead for five years. As Congressman Markey quipped, the only technology the companies seemed to be relying on in these plans was a Xerox machine. One question that seemed to go unanswered was why do companies like BP -- companies who make billions of dollars per quarter -- cut safety corners to save a few million?

Richard Charter: You have to remember that this is an industry that has always been a bit of a cowboy industry.

Richard Charter has observed the offshore industry for three decades as a senior adviser to Defenders of Wildlife.

Charter: You take a risk as a developer. And that risk involves, in many cases, going forward with your activity as cheaply as possible and maximizing your profits.

Charter says without complete reform of how the oil industry is regulated, we'll see a repeat of this catastrophe some time down the road.

I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.