It's not every day that Congress discusses walruses and the phone numbers of dead guys at length. But then again, it's not every day that the top executives from the nation's biggest oil companies are put on the hot seat to defend their pitiful emergency response plans in case of a catastrophe like the one we've seen unfold in the Gulf of Mexico over the past eight weeks.
Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, we've seen just how sad BP's planning for the event of a disaster has been. But we also got a glimpse of how ridiculous it was on paper. BP's 583-page Gulf plan, last updated in June 2009, included references to how to protect walruses and sea lions, which, as Energy and Environment subcommittee chair Ed Markey (D-Mass.) noted, "have not called the Gulf home for 3 million years." The plan also included the phone number of a sea turtle expert who has been dead for five years.
And it gets even worse: The other four oil giants are using almost the exact same plans.
In yesterday's hearing, representatives brought out the emergency response plans of Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP that had been drafted in case of an oil spill in the region. The cover photos of rigs and tankers are identical, just in different colors, and four of the five plans include the references to walruses, sea lions, seals, and sea turtle expert Dr. Peter Lutz. They list him as a staff member of the University of Miami, though he hadn't worked there since 1991, when he left for Florida Atlantic University. Oh, and he passed away in February 2005, so he probably wouldn't be able to offer much help now anyway.
"ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell are as unprepared as BP," said Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who called the responses "cookie cutter" plans. "When you look at the details, it becomes evident these [response] plans are just paper exercises."
Markey summed up the companies' response strategies pretty well in Tuesday's hearing: "The only technology you seem to be relying on is the Xerox machine."
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson defended the inclusion of Lutz. Just because he passed away, said Tillerson, "does not mean the importance of his work died with him." (He did grant that, "It's unfortunate that walruses were included.") Tillerson also defended the overlap between the companies' plans: "Cookie cutter should not come as a surprise. The industry relies on sharing resources."