Friday, June 18, 2010

Oil Mess Update: Howard's Tap Dance

In case you missed it, Tony Hayward, the embattled chief executive officer of BP plc, put in a hard seven hours on Capital Hill today, evading questions he had previously received from the congressional committee seeking to sort out responsibility for the mess that persists since the April 20 Gulf of Mexico oil-rig explosion. Hayward was widely expected to choose his words very carefully, to avoid being seen to accept any legal or moral responsibility for the deaths of 11 men who were on that oil platform or the ugly brown oil sludge that continues to coat the Gulf coast. And sure enough, he said next to nothing apart from acknowledging that there was indeed an oil rig mishap and that BP accepts its that it must at least help pay for the cleanup.
BP, as the world’s fourth-largest corporation, takes in huge revenues from its energy and other mineral exploitation worldwide. Even so, $20 billion (assuming the agreed-upon escrow fund is fully spent) is not chump change. So naturally, Howard would not want to be held accountable for any more losses. BP stock has already taken a hit, and this is from the impact of a leak at just one of the deep-water rigs BP owns or holds rights to globally. So, one would think, 60 days into this one particular mess, Howard would have spent at least the previous 59 days of “wanting his life back” in trying to determine what went wrong and whether it might go wrong again, possibly even worse, somewhere else. From his responses in testimony however, that seems not to be the case. He didn’t know this. He wasn’t responsible for that….. Bullshit Tony. You are the CEO. The buck stops with you. You may not have blown up the oil rig, and you probably didn’t know that the pipe on the seabed was going to be so hard to cap off. But you are a trained oil geologist and the executive in charge of all the people at BP who DO have the answers and the responsibility. So it is your bloody job to find out what went wrong and put a cap on that.
Compare, if you will, Howard’s verbal tap dance under oath today with what another CEO said in a globally televised address just a few days before:
“The one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II.” That was from Barack Obama, CEO of the United States, in his first address from the Oval Office since he became president. Obama was just back from another trip to the Gulf states hardest hit by the creeping oil sludge from Howard’s well. Granted, it was an address intended to show the president is in charge and maybe to help bolster sagging popular support. But it was devoid of any attempt to shirk responsibility or show ignorance. Howard and his handlers need to do some serious post-game reviewing of the videos on that one.
At the same time, I give Howard credit for staying focused, despite a surprise blow job from Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, who twice apologized to Howard for what Barton called the “slush fund” BP agreed to post to help pay for the Gulf cleanup and recovery. Barton later retracted his remarks, under strong pressure from his congressional colleagues. But Barton, whose campaign fund includes at least $27,350 in donations from BP (according to Time magazine), really needs to have someone brand STFU in reverse on his forehead so each time he looks in the mirror, he will be reminded to watch his mouth. He certainly didn’t help his Republican colleagues who seemed earnest about a united effort to get to the bottom of the oil spill, so to speak. Perhaps that’s what we have come to expect from politicians in bed with Big Oil, but the spotlight on the Gulf of Mexico now should also help enlighten us all. Meanwhile, we should also hope that BP’s Howard will stand by one statement he made in testimony, that he is “focused on the recovery.” That’s what’s needed most.