BP needs a crude awakening

BP's Lamar McKay wasn't about to take blame for the spill.
BP's Lamar McKay wasn't about to take blame for the spill. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lamar McKay, the BP official who visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday, couldn't have been any more slippery if he had just bathed in the Gulf of Mexico.

What changes has the oil company made to stop its record of accidents, the latest causing 5,000 barrels a day to pour into the gulf?

"Our operating management system in the Gulf of Mexico is as good as anyone," McKay replied. "I can't point to any deficiencies."

Did BP ask federal regulators to reverse procedures shortly before its oil rig in the gulf exploded?

"I'm not familiar with the individual procedure on that well," answered McKay, the president of BP America.

Will BP compensate state and local governments for lost tax revenue from the devastated fishing and tourism industries?

"Question mark," McKay responded.

Here's another question mark: What is BP thinking?

The British oil firm has shown a crude lack of accountability as it tries to shift blame for the spill. But perhaps the most unnerving part of McKay's performance was how familiar it seemed.

Just a week ago, Goldman Sachs officials came to Congress and declared that they have no responsibility for the mortgage-market meltdown and the resulting collapse of the world economy. Others in the banking industry, saved from bankruptcy by government intervention, are now bitterly fighting new regulations designed to prevent a recurrence. Before that, auto industry executives flew to Washington on corporate jets to demand government money. This all seems to be part of a new era of corporate irresponsibility, in which amoral executives pursue profits without a thought about collateral damage, then demand government help when they get in trouble.

In a pair of Senate hearings Tuesday, BP's McKay traded blame with the oil platform operator, Transocean, and drilling contractor Halliburton. Their finger-pointing led one senator to compare them to children blaming one another for the baseball that went through the neighbor's window.

"Transocean, as owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, had responsibility for the safety of drilling operations," McKay declared.

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