On Wednesday 12th May, in the US House of Representatives, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations began its investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The investigation will continue for some time. The opening statement from Henry A. Waxman (California), chair of the subcommittee, was as follows:
“BP, one of the world’s largest oil companies, assured Congress and the public that it could operate safely in deep water and that a major oil spill was “next to impossible”. We now know those assurances were wrong.
Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil service companies says that it had secured the well through a procedure called cementing and that the well had passed a key pressure test. But we now know this is an incomplete account. The well did pass positive pressure tests, but there is evidence that it may not have passed crucial negative pressure tests. According to a senior BP official, significant pressure discrepancies were observed in at least two of these tests which were conducted just hours before the explosion.
Transocean, one of the world’s largest operators of drilling rigs says it has no reason to believe that the rigs failsafe device, called a blowout preventer, was not fully operational. But we have learned from Cameron, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer that the device had a leak in a crucial hydraulics system and a defectively configured ram.
And we know there are major questions about the effectiveness of BP’s response to the spill. The company said it “could manage” a spill of 250,000 barrels a day. Yet it’s struggling to cope with this blowout which is releasing only 5,000 – 25,000 barrels a day.
The more I learn about this accident, the more concerned I become. This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamative series of equipment and operational failures. If the largest oil and oil services companies in the world had been more careful, eleven lives might have been saved and our coastlines protected.
Mr Waxman went on to make a political point about America’s overreliance on hydrocarbons, a point which was swiftly rebuked by Joe Barton, the Representative for Texas. Barton made a sweeping speech referencing the constitution, the Founding Fathers, proclaiming America to be the “greatest nation in the world” and requesting that the investigation confine itself to matters of human error in drill operations rather than re-thinking energy policy.
“The United States is the greatest nation in the world because we’re based on the premise of freedom for every individual in this country. That freedom is enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Our Founding Fathers had the foresight and the wisdom and so far our political leadership for the last 200 years has said that the best way to protect our freedoms is to provde maximum economic opportunity through a free market capitalistic system.
We are one of the few nations in the world that have let the private sector to develop our natural resource base. That has given us the most productive economy, the largest economy, literally, the United States economy by itself is approximately a third of the total world’s gross product. That is not a consequence of government. It is a consequence of free men and women exercising free choices to maximise their opportunity and in so doing creating economic opportunity for everybody in the world.
We’re in a situation now, where, if we’re going to have domestic energy production in a way that maintains our existing lifestyle, it is going to be because we develop our natural resource base both onshore and offshore. I have absolutely no problem with the alternative energy sources, whether it be solar, wind, ethanol, hydro, you name it.
But there’s a reason that we’re an oil based economy. It’s because that barrel of oil refined into all the products that flow from it have a tremendous productivity potential. You can take a gallon of gasoline and you can power a 4,000lb car with four adults in it at sixty miles an hour in air conditioned comfort on a highway all the way from New York City to Los Angeles California.
Now, we do not want on either side of the aisle to have people have to import more and more foreign oil. Whether we like it or not the only place to find significant additional oil deposits in meaningful quantities is in the outer continental shelf. “
Following Representative Barton’s comments that most drilling operations in the Gulf continue on a daily basis without incident, and that this is an isolated problem, Representative Stupak undertook to detail the myriad of safety breaches and pipeline problems at BP in Alaska and beyond for many years.