FLASHBACK: Murkowski Said Oil Drilling Blowouts Were ‘Impossible,’ Begged Big Oil To Fight ‘Red Tape’

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"FLASHBACK: Murkowski Said Oil Drilling Blowouts Were ‘Impossible,’ Begged Big Oil To Fight ‘Red Tape’"

This afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) held a press conference to tout her “Dirty Air Act” resolution that rolls back the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. As Climate Progress has detailed, Murkowski’s bill was drafted in consultation with Jeffrey R. Holmstead and Roger R. Martella Jr — lobbyists for the coal and oil industry. Despite this fact, Murkowski has tried to downplay the influence of big oil on her efforts, claiming only her staff writes her actual amendments, and that she is motivated purely by the fear of “detrimental consequences” of Clean Air Act regulations.

But Murkowski’s own words help to clarify her relationship with the oil industry. In a startling speech given to the Oil and Gas Association Board of Directors on May 7, 2008, Murkowski asked the oil industry to “mobilize all your resources” for a massive campaign to “beat[] back bad legislation and regulations.” To combat “the growing hysteria over fossil fuel use,” Murkowski suggested that the oil industry “fund a major campaign to open areas of America to environmentally sensitive oil and gas exploration.” Murkowski commended the oil industry for “fight[ing] off efforts” to “add more red tape to gain drilling permits” and made clear that although she is facing “considerable and growing opposition” from Alaskan fishermen and whalers, her allegiance is with the oil industry in opening new drilling.

But possibly the most stunning statement was Murkowski’s claim that “new technology makes Santa Barbara wellhead blowouts impossible,” and that the oil industry should publicize this claim to the public in pushing for more drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, in the Gulf of Mexico, off Florida’s shores, and elsewhere. Of course, BP’s oil spill disaster appears to have been caused by problems with the wellhead blowout preventer technology, which Murkowski said was impossible:

“In the past six months you have had to fight off efforts to single out multinational oil producers for nearly $18 billion in tax hikes. You have had to fight off a host of proposals in last year’s House energy bill to restrict access to federal lands, add more red tape to gain drilling permits, and fight off efforts to take away your oil and gas leases.[…] A major campaign to explain directional drilling and how it prevents surface disruption over a hundred square miles, how new technology makes Santa Barbara wellhead blowouts impossible […] But I am here to also encourage your industry to come out of the foxholes and to fully join the battle. Because it is clear that if you don’t mobilize all your resources, no one else is going to be successful in delivering the message that we need a balanced, rational energy policy in this country, and we need it right now.”

Today, ThinkProgress spoke to Robert Dillon, Murkowski’s Communications Director at the Senate Energy Committee, about his boss’s 2008 speech. Dillon explained to ThinkProgress that BP’s oil disaster was not a result of a lack of regulation, but merely a lack of enforcement of existing regulations, and that Murkowski opposes “imposing regulations, more bureaucratic regulations and red tape” on the oil industry. When ThinkProgress pressed Dillon if that means Murkowski would oppose new regulations in the wake of BP’s oil spill, he ironically said no.

Transcript of Dillon’s comments below:

TP: In 2008, Senator Murkowski gave a speech to the executive committee of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association board of directors. And she praised the committee and said, this is a quote, “you have had to fight off efforts to single out multinational oil producers for nearly $18 billion in tax hikes. You have had to fight off a host of proposals in last year’s House energy bill to restrict access to federal lands, add more red tape to gain drilling permits, and fight off efforts to take away your oil and gas leases.” Do you think the Senator regrets praising the oil industry for fighting regulations and red tape.

DILLON: You’ve got a double edged sword here, you’ve got these companies the energy that we use for our national security right. Senator Murkowski supports the strictest environmental safety regulations and holding these companies fully accountable. […]

TP: Now, we have this disaster in the Gulf that seems to have occurred because there were lax regulations on BP’s oil rig, you know, people weren’t inspecting the blowout protector and other things that could have prevented this tragedy–

DILLON: Yeah but those were regulations that weren’t enforced. That’s a big difference from saying than saying there could have been– I mean Senator Murkowski is saying, you know in that speech, imposing regulations, more bureaucratic regulations and red tape, piling it on, isn’t necessarily a good thing. But that’s completely different from saying we should be enforcing what is already on the books. And the problem we have here is you have things not being enforced, they didn’t follow the procedures that were already in place. And a lot of the problems is not living up to the standards already set–

TP: So, the Senator’s position is, we don’t need new regulations, just enforce the regulations that are already on the books?

DILLON: No, no, no, not fully. I’m saying, you’re talking about this speech, right. Obviously Senator Murkowski has said now, we need to review, she supports the administration’s review, she supports the time out in Alaska. She doesn’t support in shallow water, but she does support the review, the six month review. And she fully, has said repeatedly, that we are going to need to strengthen our safety regulations and we are going to see new regulations come out of that.

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