Congress to Oil Execs: Can We Trust You?


Executives from the nation's largest oil companies will be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning to testify before lawmakers about the safety of offshore oil drilling and future U.S. energy policy.

But don't expect the heads of Exxon Mobil (XOM), ConocoPhillips (COP), Chevron (CVX) and Shell Oil (RDS.A) to stand in allegiance with BP (BP), which is struggling to stop the flow of oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico after an oil rig explosion nearly two months ago. Rather, the other oil giants will likely tout their own safety records and commitment to protect the environment.

"This incident represents a dramatic departure from the industry norm in deepwater drilling," Exxon Mobil Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson is expected to say, according to a copy of his prepared testimony obtained by Reuters.

Lawmakers, however, are expected to portray the oil industry as a whole, not just BP, as unprepared for a massive oil spill.

In an interview with CNN previewing the hearing, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he thinks it's "highly unlikely that any of these oil companies had a capacity to respond to a worst-case scenario."

"Yes, they say in their representations to the Department of Interior that they have that capacity, but I don't think there is any evidence that is in fact true," said Markey, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

What Happened in the Gulf of Mexico?

Lawmakers will also be examining whether actions taken by BP may have hastened the Gulf oil spill. In a letter Monday to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, lawmakers said BP appears "to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure."

The letter advised Hayward to bring other officials and experts to answer tough questions about what happened in the days and hours leading up to the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The letter, written by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and oversight subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, cites evidence uncovered by Congressional investigators that says "at the time of the blowout, the Macondo well was significantly behind schedule" and that those delays appear "to have created pressure to take shortcuts to speed finishing the well."

The spill has caused significant economic trauma to residents and businesses along the Gulf coast, especially those involved in the tourism and fishing industries. It has also killed birds, sea turtles and dolphins.

BP shares have also been negatively affected. Having ended Monday's trading session down nearly 10% to $30.67 a share, BP stock is worth roughly half the amount it traded for on April 20, the day the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers.