In a remarkable display of finger-pointing, oil company executives went after BP today, claiming that if they had been running the Deepwater Horizon rig, no accident would have been possible. But as several congressmen pointed out, all the companies’ safety procedures are absurdly inadequate. Which raises the question: how well do we, as a society, police risks? And, more to the point of this site, how well does journalism monitor potentially catastrophic projects of all kinds? Not well. We’re generally much better at reporting disasters after they happen.

As reported by the New York Times:

The chief executives of the world’s largest oil companies faced a Congressional panel of inquisitors on Tuesday and tried to cast the BP spill as a rare event that their companies were not likely to repeat….Rex W. Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil, testified that if companies follow proper well design, drilling, maintenance and training procedures accidents like Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 “should not occur,” implying that BP had failed to do so…….John S. Watson, chief executive of Chevron, also pointed an implicit finger at BP, saying that every Chevron employee and contractor has the authority to stop work immediately if they see anything unsafe…..

Well, yes. Sure. But…

Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House committee, focused on the spill response plans of the five companies. They were prepared by an outside contractor and are virtually identical, Mr. Waxman said. Each of the plans addresses a worst-case spill. BP’s plan says it can handle a spill of 250,000 barrels a day; Chevron and Shell say they can handle 200,000 barrels a day. The current estimate for the BP spill is about 30,000 barrels a day, and it is clear that the company’s plan was not adequate to deal with it. Mr. Waxman said it is clear that the plans are “just paper exercises.”

“BP failed miserably when confronted with a real leak,” Mr. Waxman said, “and Exxon Mobil and the other companies would do no better.”

That’s not just rhetoric, according to Energy subcommittee chairman Ed Markey:

“In preparation for this hearing, the committee reviewed the oil spill safety response plans for all of the companies here today. What we found was that these five companies have response plans that are virtually identical. The plans cite identical response capabilities and tout identical ineffective equipment. In some cases, they use the exact same words. We found that all of these companies, not just BP, made the exact same assurances.”

Like BP, Mr. Markey said, three other companies include references to protecting walruses, which have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for three million years.

“Two other plans are such dead ringers for BP’s that they list a phone number for the same long-dead expert,” he said.

Wow. Now let’s talk about nuclear power……Or, better, turn to the Beatles for insight:

I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun
see how they fly
I’m crying

Sitting on a cornflake
Waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you’ve been a naughty boy
you let your face grow long

I am the eggman
they are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’ joob

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