BP lost valuable time at the height of its devastating accident in the Gulf of Mexico last year pursuing solutions to contain the oil spill that were never going to succeed, the chief executive of ExxonMobil has claimed.
In a sharp criticism of the handling of the disaster, Rex Tillerson said Exxon’s engineers knew that one of BP’s initial efforts to stem the oil flowing from the ruptured Macondo well – by building a containment dome – “wasn’t going to work”.
“We knew they were going to form hydrates [a type of ice], which they did,” he told the Financial Times on the eve of the first anniversary of the accident which killed 11 workers and led to the worst offshore oil spill in US waters.
There was, he added, “a significant loss of time while they pursued that option and while that was going on, the integrity of the well itself was deteriorating daily”.
He said: “So I think there was some time lost pursuing some alternatives that most of us felt that in the end were not going to be successful – and with the loss of time the challenges just got greater.”
Exxon, he said, had learnt over the years that in crisis situations like the Gulf accident, companies needed to act quickly and aggressively “because these situations only get worse with time”.
Tillerson has formerly criticized BP about its assessment that there are industry-wide lessons to be drawn from the Deepwater Horizon accident – but his remarks about the handling of the crisis are the most specific to date.
BP responded: “We made all efforts to contain the well and worked closely with industry, US federal agencies and regulators on proposals to respond to the incident at the time. Our response drew on all of those.”
Mr Tillerson said he would be concerned if the public or regulators were to be told that “this industry was operating on the edge of its capabilities as we moved into ever-deeper water”.
He added: “[That] flies in the face of 14,000 wells that were drilled without this happening.” A year after the accident, only 10 fresh drilling permits have been issued in the gulf.
“We are not back to business as usual. I can’t really see the end,” Mr Tillerson said.