NewsHammer Exclusive The big showdown yesterday June 15 between Big Oil's Top 5 and Chairman Ed Markey's House Subcommittee had about as much impact as a quart of oil spilled on the floor. Exciting at first, embarrassing and then slippery to talk about, but nobody bothered to clean it up. In the end there wasn't much anyone could do on the spot except blame BP and look forward to nuclear energy, what? Just 2-word bombshells going off now and then carelessly dropped into every Green energy future, oddly by the same people who were going mission critical on dirty dangerous BP oil destroying our way of life.

Riveting at first with BP America's Chairman looking stone-cold sober and ready to be lead to the gallows for about the first hour of opening remarks. Markey as Chairman sliced and diced first, kicking some BP walruses clean out of the Gulf as well as walruses found in 3 other Spill Response Plans just like BP's, all 4 with the same 500 page format and 90% identical even Shell's, all 5 with about the same cover art, but at least Shell with some background in fossils and maybe fossil fuels knew that there haven't been walruses in the Gulf for 3 million years, as Markey lectured the other Chairmen of Big Oil.

The other tipping points scored could have been boiled down to 5 minutes from the 5 hour hearing and have been of course even down to less than 2 minutes by AP video (alternate link) and by other media where just about everybody looks good. Not in the video above, some other essential answers wrung out later from 4 of the 5 Chairmen with Yes or No like admissions that they wouldn't have been ready either for a BP Size Spill. BUT they all said they wouldn't have had a BP Spill anyway if they had been drilling and filling BP's Well according to their own Better Industry Practices. Even so they didn't want to say that much, and Markey had to hit them again with Yes or No to get some answers. Even on the 14-page letter from Subcommittee members Waxman and Stupak to BP CEO Tony Hayward that rips out the bleeding heart of BP incompetence before the Deepwater Horizon "nightmare well" explosion and fire, the Big 5 were going to demure. Yes or No? Well, only if the facts were true, so Yes like 5 bad boys down the line.

For the first major confrontation between Capitol Hill and the Big 5, covering the BP backend disaster, the current BP hopeless mess and America's safe and maybe Green energy future and maybe without BP, only BP's Lamar McKay looked like he passed the audition for the Movie. Better at emotional depth as the scared shitless corporate martyr, saying nothing while waiting for a miserable end that might go on forever. One after another 30 committee members sharpened their opening remarks on his stony face and frozen dead body. An amazing study, but cut from the news videos.

It could have worn him down, but surprisingly he got used to it and thawed with only a few other House Members up to Markey's sharp facts and pointed go for the jugular style. Once the give and take of Q for A started an hour later you had to love the game change flip from Exxon Mobil. With that effortless industry leadership you might expect, the whole deal was cookie-cuttered into a Forbes Magazine spread. Exxon Mobil out in front, McKay had some cover and soon he was able to step out of his catatonic disaster suit into just another one of the guys from Big 5 eyeballing shareholders from another planet, the gentlemen and gentleladies from a House Subcommittee on Planet Washington.

It wasn't long before McKay got his clichés in a row. Still waiting for the investigations [elsewhere of course] and the final reports [years away]; and it hasn't been decided yet, escrow funds [BBBejesus]; BP will pay for the spill cleanup [good] and will mitigate its effects [not so good] and ducking and sliding by the storm of leading questions.

But McKay had one ace up his sleeve. Though it fell on the floor instead of on the table. Unified Command was responsible for Spill cleanup, so Unified Command was the shield for BP's slow and ineffective post-spill actions. Everybody's working together, BP hasn't held anything back. McKay didn't hammer it home, but he could have. There was still a backup ace, that could have piqued MMS and drawn blood from the Government that so far has approved everything BP wanted. It must have been a tough call with the long knives out. But it seems McKay remembered it was a hearing after all, a public relations exercise, and not a fight to the death in a dangerous fire and brimstone court of law. Why push his luck when the other Big 4 were circling the wagons around him? If they'd been out to burn British Petroleum in the interests of Industry Safety or business as usual, as rumor had it, well then nothing could have saved BP. They weren't, so relax. Oil was still in bed with Gas.

To be fair it is a good take on what happened and the shared responsibility for the Spill and cleanup that McKay left instead for the armies of lawyers to come and courts to settle maybe 20 years later. McKay's unspoken inference that everybody's to blame for all the failures and setbacks through Unified Command, notably the US Government including President Obama who took charge of operations through the USCG and his National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen way back as of May 1, and the dozen other agencies involved, was lost in the shuffle and spark of brittle questions and watered down answers.

Lowballing Estimates, Who's On First?

McKay did underline NOAA's 5,000 barrels per day estimate, as though BP did not lowball the estimates. Markey shot back but McKay noted that BP's, if in-house and confidential, original estimate was 1,000 per day up to 14,000, everybody in Government knew that.

Nobody told us though or Congress either until Markey went fishing.

Though everybody knows BP did say 1,000 barrels a day in public and then disputed NOAA's 5,000 estimate. Then BP tolerated NOAA's estimate while not bothering to analyze its own data, and not releasing video of the leaks until Markey jumped all over BP. Not wanting live feeds either of Top Kill until kicked by Capitol Hill. And still doing nothing on its own. Finally the Government got some hi-res video from BP for analysis of flow after Cut and Cap started, and still nothing more from BP until the Government recently figured out they needed some actual sensors in the Cap to monitor flow that BP was ordered to install finally. Now the Government's Flow Assessment Team is saying up to 60,000 barrels a day. But the same team had earlier also reported numbers that were oddly taken to be the full range of the leak at least in the media, that was in fact its low range of 12-25,000, with no upper range then possible according to Dr Ira Leifer in NewsHammer, "BP's Big Fix".

So who has been lowballing the numbers? Why everybody. But why? Easy for BP as huge and deadly eventual fines would be based per gallon of oil spilled. Why everyone else? Confusion, incompetence, stupidity or maybe just bureaucracy and its many insulting brain-numbing states? It has to be on form 1006.

Markey hit BP hard anyway on BP lowballing its numbers which had the disastrous effect of a minimal spill response. Everybody should have been prepared for a much bigger spill and they weren't because of BP. And BP wasn't either. Since it was their Spill and they were responsible they should have acted right away to contain a big spill underway with their 500 page plan. That was useless anyway, but anyway it was their Spill.

McKay on auto-pilot carelessly repeated BP's misleading smoking-gun soundbite hammered into the media, that the numbers had nothing to do with stopping the Spill as BP was always considering the kill of the Deepwater well as a worst case scenario. And anyway the Government had BP's data and BP's estimate. Which brings us to:

The Obama BP Inaction Plan

Is that why Obama has been playing Mr Nice President Guy? First saying it was BP's Spill and BP would clean it up. Then taking over after finding out he had to under law and BP was dragging its heels? Then still playing partners with BP on it until the media screamed and the people too that he wasn't taking the disaster seriously enough, wasn't even angry when everybody else was. So he got angry for awhile, for Larry King Live, and that wore off too by the time he figured he had to do something from the Oval Office. A talk with the American people. No, it wasn't exactly Obama in action, it was Obama politics.

These guys at BP who he even avoided talking to, if they weren't going to act decisively had to be given enough time to do it or enough rope to hang themselves. As much as possible he had to get some action from BP, not through confrontation and the courts, but playing along. Playing along because the ass he wanted to kick was technically out of reach, his own ass especially. The Buck Stops With Me came out so late because well he and the US government were co-responsible with BP since May 1st when he formally took over through Admiral Allen to run the Unified Command show. So BP messed up but Obama managed to get BP to pay for the cleanup, disregarding the $75 Million corrorate lifesaver cap law, that limited BP's liability in the Spill. Managed to get BP to start paying some claims from those suffering in financial hell.

The other and only straight option was go in guns blazing and sink BP's Corporate Ship. Charge them, lock'em up for the Deepwater Spill in light of their reckless record and hundreds of safety violations. Put BP in receivership where it belongs. Send in the Army and clean up the horrendous mess. That would have been the Change We Need, but as a political cat with 9 lives behind a podium, Obama didn't want to risk his Presidency on a gamble with American Oil or these 5 guys who might cut and run further Offshore to any of the many regulation-free Tax Havens abroad or to Dubai like Haliburton did, or try to anyway. So reform the whole rotten industry that's destroying the planet? Extreme, well not if you read up on it.

Even during the Oval Office Address that night, when everybody thought there would finally be some action from the White House, it was more the winter fireside chat, fire out, without the Christmas Tree.

June 16 Update: Obama Inaction Plan Wins Big: $20 Billion From BP

If Obama is smart as a politico, is he smart enough to lead the nation? Or did he outsmart America's gut instincts and instead doom the Gulf to save some BP Corporate Paper and billions of lousy bucks? Stop and contain the Spill or get the money? Two long months later too late for anything else, there's only one smart choice left, play along and get the money.

Shaking down the BP Empire, the BP Corporate heads marshalled at the White House today to play ball, Obama scored an escrow account as promised at a tidy $20 Billion yet for those hurt by the BP Spill. To be run independently from BP and from the Government, the new setup is another chance for Gulf residents denied their money or nickel and dimed by BP. Plus another $100 Million for lost wages for rig crews idled by Obama's expanded 6 month moratorium on deep sea drilling until it's safe. Though BP gets a beak. Not $20 Billion now, but the damage fund topped up from time to time from BP's deep pockets, hopefully deep enough.

The new claims procedure is better and doesn't limit anyone or any State's rights to sue BP and the $20 Billion doesn't cap the damages either for BP. It's a win-win for everybody except BP and its shareholders who won't see a dime in dividends for at least a year.

Hopefully it will be easier to get claims processed and paid than understanding the White House video (CNN alternate link).

The White House Tries To Explain How To Get Money

Obama's other promise last night to capture Up To 90% of the Spill with built-in loads of room for error, is still weeks away. At least some sort of murky future is coming into focus. It could take years to bring back the Gulf and the Gulf way of life, but Obama also said he's getting a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan in motion that he's asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, to develop. And on top of that big plans for a new Greener energy economy.

Wow. Good enough for starters. Better than we hoped from yesterday's homily, as long as BP keeps paying the bills. But how long do we have? Dr Leifer who's in charge of the Government's flow assessment said that if the Deepwater well can't be capped, it could spew oil for another 20 or 30 years.

Getting it right when it's too late?

--Alan Gillis