ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told Congress we must do everything possible to prevent offshore drilling disasters, because once they occur, there is not any way to stop the damage. By admitting the unavoidable risk of catastrophe, Tillerson exploded the myths — promoted by the oil industry and right-wing supporters — that offshore drilling is “environmentally safe,” and that the industry can handle these disasters when they occur. Tillerson made the shocking admission that the industry is “not well equipped to prevent any and all damage” under questioning from Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the chair of the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during a hearing that featured top executives from the five largest private oil companies:
There will be impacts as we are seeing. We have never represented anything different than that. That’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because when they happen we are not well equipped to deal with them. And that’s just a fact of the enormity of what we’re dealing with.
The only fail-safe way to prevent oil drilling disasters, in fact, is to stop drilling for oil — in other words, “The only winning move is not to play.” This is yet another reason this nation needs an energy policy that puts a cap on oil pollution and ends our toxic addiction.
Transcript (watch the full Stupak-Tillerson exchange on YouTube):
STUPAK: So if you can’t handle 40,000 [barrels of oil a day], how are you going handle 166,000 per day?
TILLERSON: The answer to that is is when these things happen, we are not well equipped to deal with them.
STUPAK: So when these happen, we can’t handle them?
TILLERSON: There will be impacts as we are seeing. We have never represented anything different than that. That’s why the emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because when they happen we are not well equipped to deal with them. And that’s just a fact of the enormity of what we’re dealing with.
STUPAK: We call upon the same resources. No matter which one of the oil companies before us had the blow-out, the resources are not enough to prevent what we are seeing day after day on the gulf. Not only the loss of 11 people, but we — we are on day what? 56 or 57 of oil washing on shore. There is no way to stop it until we cap the well? Correct?
STUPAK: But it could be Exxon tomorrow or Chevron tomorrow?
TILLERSON: Not if we follow our practices and procedures it won’t be.
STUPAK: But if it does we can’t handle the spill. This worst case scenario is pie in the sky and oil in our waters.
TILLERSON: The MMS and Coast Guard require us to calculate using their methods and that’s why it’s in there. I think that’s all that matters is the point is we have to take every step to prevent these things from happening. When they happen, it is a fact that we are not well equipped to prevent any and all damage. Damage will occur.
STUPAK: We satisfy the application but in reality we can’t respond to a worst case scenario.
TILLERSON: Response is underway. It is having some effect. But there is nothing to guarantee you will not have an impact.
In his first Oval Office speech, President Barack Obama noted that “no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk”:
One of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. . . . The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.
We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.