Big Oil profits targeted to kill Spill Bill

Our guest bloggers are CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss and Rebecca Lefton.

The big five oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — reported their second quarter profits during the week of July 26th. To the surprise of almost no one, these companies made a huge combined profit of $21.7 billion this quarter.[1] This is 50 percent more profit compared to the second quarter of 2009. Their total profit in the first half of 2010 is $50 billion — almost double compared to 2009.

Big oil companies are using part of their huge windfall to pressure Congress to defeat measures that would protect public health and the environment. According to lobby reports, these five companies spent nearly $18 million in the second quarter to lobby on efforts to hold them more accountable for the damages from blowouts or disasters like BP’s Deepwater Horizon fiasco by removing the $75 million liability cap on damages from oil spills. The American Petroleum Institute, big oil’s lobbying arm, leads the charge to block unlimited liability for companies’ oil disaster related economic damages.

Fortunately, a majority of voting representatives ignored big oil arm twisting, and voted to pass the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act, H.R. 3534 on July 30th. It passed by a vote of 209–193. Among its many important reforms, it would make BP pay for the damages from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and hold oil companies responsible for future spills. It would enhance safety requirements to prevent future blowouts or spills. The Senate could vote on a similar measure as soon as Tuesday August 3rd.


Eliminating the existing $75 million liability cap for offshore oil spill damages would make oil companies liable for all economic losses to businesses, lost governmental revenues, and other damages. Establishing an unlimited liability cap would apply to the BP oil disaster. This would create a powerful economic deterrent to the kinds of reckless cost cutting and shortcuts that BP reportedly took on the Deepwater Horizon platform

The BP oil disaster was caused more than 180 million gallons of oil to flood from the ocean bottom into the Gulf of Mexico and on to American shores from Texas to Florida. This disaster is the largest ever, but it is no freak occurrence. A Washington Post analysis found “a steady stream of oil spills dumping 517,847 barrels of petroleum…into the Gulf of Mexico between 1964 and 2009…they poured twice as much as oil into U.S. waters as the Exxon Valdez tanker did when it ran aground in 1989.”

In addition to opposition to oil company responsibility for oil spill damages, the big five oil companies also spent money to lobby on:

  • the Blowout Prevention Act, H.R. 5626, to prevent future disasters
  • requirement that BP pay royalties to the federal government from oil capture from the Deepwater Horizon blow out, H.R. 5513;
  • Clean Air Act pollution reduction requirements;
  • efforts to cut global warming pollution, H.R. 2454;
  • proposals to close some tax loopholes that save oil companies billions of dollars;
  • efforts to require shale gas producers to publicly report on the toxic chemicals they use to “frack” rock to produce the gas, H.R. 2766;
  • restrictions on the use of highly polluting “tar sands” based fuel;
  • provisions to increase energy efficiency and the use of the wind, sun and other renewable resources; and,
  • other public health, job creation, oil reduction, and environmental safeguards.

These reforms are just some of the targets of big oil pressure, paid for with profits from Americans’ gasoline purchases. Another benefit of reducing oil use would be to shrink the big five’s bank accounts so that they have fewer funds to oppose public health and safety protections like they are in this Congress.

[1] These figures reflect BP’s underlying profit, excluding special charge for Gulf oil disaster damages.