May 19th, 2010
08:25 PM ET
12 years ago

BP told feds it could handle massive spills


Energy giant BP told federal regulators it could handle an oil spill more than 50 times larger than the one now troubling the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - Oil company BP told federal regulators it could handle an oil spill more than 50 times larger than the one it is now struggling to contain in the Gulf of Mexico, according to documents and congressional testimony Wednesday.

Related: BP touts containment efforts; heavy oil hits Louisiana wetlands

BP America Chairman Lamar McKay told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the company's worst-case estimate of a possible spill from the well that was ripped open by an explosion in April was 250,000 barrels a day for 30 days. Meanwhile, an exploration plan BP filed with in 2009 estimated an uncontrolled blowout could release between 162,000 and 300,000 barrels a day.

In that document, filed with the Interior Department's Minerals Managment Service, BP called a spill "unlikely." It stated that if one did happen, however, it "has the capability to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge, or a substantial threat of such a discharge, resulting from the activities proposed in our Exploration Plan."

But with the company still trying to cap a leak estimated at 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day and syrupy, brown fingers of crude starting to seep into the Louisiana marshes, McKay faced another day of pointed questions about the disaster.

"Would you make that statement today?" the committee's chairman, Minnesota Democratic Rep. James Oberstar, asked McKay.

McKay responded that the spill uncorked by the late April sinking of the drill rig Deepwater Horizon was "a very unique situation" and that the company's response on the surface was "very robust."

"I think they were enacted within two hours of the explosion, and that has proved to be impactful and I think effective," he said. But he said the plans didn't take into account the failure of the rig's blowout preventer, a
massive piece of equipment designed to slam shut in case of an emergency, or the failure of the well's pipe riser stack to disconnect.

McKay said the plan was being adjusted "based on the characteristics of this oil and where the oil's going," and that a siphon inserted into the larger of the two leak points over the weekend was now capturing about 2,000 barrels per day - about 40 percent of the spill.

But Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, questioned whether the response plan was adequate.

"If you are implementing a full response plan at 5,000 barrels a day, which is 2 percent of your worst-case scenario, I can't even envision what else could be done or deployed if we were seeing, you know, a greater spill than what you estimate," she said.

McKay discounted estimates that have suggested the leak could be many times larger than the 5,000-barrel figure produced in late April. But he added, "There's a range around that, and there's uncertainty."

Filed under: Energy
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Wes

    The "fox" understimated the damage he could do to the "chickens." The U.S. farmer took the word of the fox, and is now horrified at the scope of the disaster. Shocking.

    May 19, 2010 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  2. DENNA

    Yeah, BP can handle anything. It would have been nice if BP had had a plan in place that would have effectively stopped this tragedy before it got out of hand. Don't these multi-million dollar earners have any common sense?

    May 19, 2010 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  3. ajax

    What I don't understand is why aren't their more ships out their in the gulf trying to clean up the oil?In all the footage that i've seen on see very few ships cleaning the waters ,especially for the amount of leaking oil.Come on ,we could do better. There are a lot of people that live there that would like to help in the cleanup because it's their lives that are going to be affected the most.

    May 19, 2010 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  4. Four and The Door

    BP is certainly turning out to be Buffoon Petroleum in this mess, but the Department of Interior is right up there with them. This is absolutely their failure to ensure that the operations being conducted were safe. The fix they come up with had better not just be window dressing. This is the time to get serious, and I'm not just talking about serious political games. This stuff is real and it's hard to overstate the importance of effective control.

    May 19, 2010 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  5. GI Joe

    When corporate america has killed all good about our earth, the wealthy will have no air, water, fish, trees, either. They won't be able to eat their gold.

    May 19, 2010 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  6. bennie new york

    If this story is supposed to make me pin more blame on BP, it's not happening. As terribly as BP has handled this, the Feds deserve alot of blame for believing BP. The only reason the Feds didn't want to handle this was so they could dodge accountability when the cleanup efforts failed. They failed to dodge accountability with me at least. Ultimately, it's not worth getting angry about how this has been handled, because cleaning up after this spill was going to be hell anyway. We should be getting angry about the fact that this even happened in the first place, but that's not going to happen in a country that has a crack-like addiction to oil.

    May 19, 2010 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  7. Marie MD

    Enough of the talk and lies bp. Where's the cement to finally stop the leak?

    May 19, 2010 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  8. Kevin

    Why do you keep repeating 5,000 barrels a day. That figure isn't factual. It may be as much as 100, 000 barrels a day – we don't know the size of the spillage, but stop repeating the lowest number that BP have admitted to.

    May 19, 2010 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  9. Squigman

    Who would ever believe that any corporate manager, or executive could ever lie? Things like this have never happened before, why should they occur now? WAKE-UP.

    May 19, 2010 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  10. Ken in NC

    Well I swore off of EXXON after the way they handled the Alaska situation many years ago and now it appears I will no longer be able to buy gas from BP stations. Sure hope Shell oil doesn't screw up because I'm not about to use that Citgo gas from the Dictator down in South America. Looks like I might end up buying a Hybird and plenty of Pinto Beans and Pork-N-Beans.

    May 19, 2010 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    All the more reason BP should be held financially and criminally responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

    They need to be taught a lesson so they never let this happen again!

    And the best way to get through to these greedy types, is to hit them in the pocketbook – HARD!

    May 19, 2010 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  12. Nancy L. Girard

    The great tragedy here is the regulatory framework that allow BP to propose a plan that was untested and based on speculation. Asking them if the plan would work today is just absurd given the fact that the plan was based on a regulatory scheme that did not take into effect the impact of drilling roughly 5000 feet deep. These plans have more credibility when these companies were drilling at much shallower depths.
    The American public has been greatly harmed and will continue to be by an oil industry that does not pay a royalty for the oil taken in American waters and an industry that consistently underestimates the enormous impacts of oil spills on our estuaries and communities. This will not just be a short term issue, but will impact these shore and the people who make their livelihood from these waters for decades to come.

    May 19, 2010 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  13. Ann

    Sure, and I can turn rocks into pure gold. Will the government bail me out now? Because I am running out of money, no one is buying gold.

    May 19, 2010 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  14. BeverlyNC

    BP has lied every single day since the day of the explosion. They have been arrogant, snide, and acted like "so what" over the disaster they have created.

    This is not their first major spill or accident that needlessly killed workers. BP executives are criminals who intentionally ignored safety measures to save a few dollars.

    The Interior Dept should jerk all of BP's permits for drillng and shut them down until every rig and refinery can be inspected for safety violations. BP is so incompetent they have no clue how to stop the leak that is now in the Gulf stream that goes around the FL Keys and up the East coast.

    BP says how much oil is leaking is:"irrelevant", "damage very modest" and people have become "hysterical" over nothing. It's time to show BP how relevant we consider our water, coastlines, wildlife, and whole industries like fishing.

    SHUT THEM DOWN and let's get their attention. Maybe then they would let experts come in and work on stopping the spill.

    SHUT BP DOWN NOW.....we can't afford corporate liars who destroy our country with no intention of cleaning it up.

    May 19, 2010 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  15. harold

    B-P.... Bad People?

    May 19, 2010 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  16. Mark_in_KCMO

    Quoted from AP article:

    BP spokesman Mark Salt said the company wants the public's help, but that considering proposed fixes takes time. "They're taking bits of ideas from lots of places," Salt said. "This is not just a PR stunt."

    So, BP is taking ideas from the public on how to fix this mess. This tells me that they obviously had no plan/idea whatsoever in place on what to do should something like this happen.

    They obviously lied when applying for whatever permits or whatever it is they have to do to get approval to drill for oil.

    Next question: If/When is someone at the top of BP going to jail????????

    May 19, 2010 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  17. Donald, Toronto

    I would like to see some of these lawmakers and President Obama tell McKay and his coherts from BH to stop playing games with the American people intelligence and acknowledge that they of BP PLC have royally messed up and as such get their acts together and put a stop to the spill or they the lawmakers will have other oil company experts tackle the problem and BP will foot the bill for every corrective measure. I hope that those politicians don't try to let the clean up bill fall on the tax payers. If BP and any other guilty party which are also together, responsible for the oil gushing into the Gulf water, want to play games, the lawmakers should seek a court order to seize the assets of BP and any other responsible party, against the total cost to offset the negative effect economically, socially and enviromentally.

    May 20, 2010 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  18. Ken in NC

    The government listened to the Health Care companies and look where our premiums went. The government listened to Big Banks and Investment companies when they spoke of "Policing" themselves if the Investment companies could become Investment Banks. The government got rid of the protections in place to regulated them and look where they took us. The government listened the Big Oil companies when they said they could "Police" themselves. In fact it was so good to the government they even got in bed and had sex with the Big Oil company but look now at our beautiful Gulf.

    The Government got in bed with Big Oil but when they had sex, we the people got screwed.

    May 20, 2010 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  19. Oregon

    well guess what... you effed up. Time to take off those spendy London tailored suits and get your hands dirty. There's a whole lotta land to clean up

    May 20, 2010 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  20. DennisK

    "Saying" and "doing" are two very different things. BP has a massive ecological failure on its hands and apparently has no clue what to do about it. I also have to say I'm more than a little disappointed at the administration's tepid response to this crisis.

    May 20, 2010 12:49 am at 12:49 am |