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Oil executives to testify on offshore drilling

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Executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP converge on Capitol Hill today for a hearing on offshore drilling safety and the future of U.S. energy policy.

Lisa Margonelli at the New America Foundation says there will be lots of congressional outrage about the industry’s profits and lapses. “We tend to deal with problems in the oil industry politically in the United States by these kind of theatrical show trials,” she says.

The other oil companies will tout their own safety records to distance themselves from BP, says Kevin Book of Clear View Energy Partners. “They’re going to take every opportunity at an individual company level to show how good they are at managing risk and maintaining a safe work environment,” he says.

But an oil leak over the weekend at a Chevron pipeline in Utah underscores just how risky the oil business is, says New America’s Margonelli. “Being an oil company,” she says, “is basically managing disasters.”

The question is whether the oil industry can manage a PR disaster during the hearings.

An escrow account for BP pay-off

While oil executives go on the safety defensive, orders continue for BP to channel funds for damage control. Last week, Louisiana and Florida demanded BP set aside $7.5 billion into an escrow account to pay for the mounting damage to their economies. Now the Obama administration wants to take over, demanding BP finances a fund managed by a third party to pay victims of the spill. The president could ask for direct government control of the fund, but energy industry analyst Kevin Book says that wouldn’t look good to our British friends, many of whom are BP shareholders.

“One country’s solution is another country’s problem right now, and the last thing you want is the perception that the U.S. federal government has reached into the coffers of a British company,” Book said.

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