LONDON — The owner of the broken Deepwater Horizon rig spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico criticized U.S. President Barack Obama’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling and a BP executive was heckled Tuesday at a major oil conference.
The massive oil slick in the Gulf dominated discussions at the World National Oil Companies Congress.
Transocean Ltd. president and CEO Steven Newman said he was concerned about a moratorium imposed by Obama, which is currently being reviewed by a U.S. federal judge.
“There are things the administration could implement today that would allow the industry to go back to work tomorrow without an arbitrary six-month time limit,” Newman told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.
Transocean owns the Deepwater rig, which is run by British oil giant BP PLC. An April 20 explosion on the rig killed 11 workers and set off worst oil spill in U.S. history. In response, the U.S. government imposed the ban on drilling.
Obama’s drilling ban has been challenged in court and U.S. Judge Martin Feldman has said he will decide by Wednesday whether to overturn the ban.
Chevron executive Jay Pryor was also critical of the U.S. government’s move, saying the drilling moratorium would “constrain supplies for world energy.”
“It would also be a step back for energy security,” said Pryor, global vice-president for business development at the U.S. company.
Meanwhile, BP executive Steve Westwell was heckled during his speech at the conference, where he was standing in for embattled chief executive Tony Hayward.
The BP chief of staff was interrupted twice during his address by protesters shouting “we need to end the oil age!” The hecklers were escorted out of the central London hotel by security.
Westwell said Hayward was “genuinely sorry” not to be at the conference, where he had been due to give a keynote address on about the global responsibilities of international oil companies.
“He and I both hope you understand his schedule is under incredible pressure at the moment,” Westwell told delegates.
Hayward pulled out of the conference on Monday after stinging criticism for spending Saturday at England’s Isle of Wight to see his yacht compete in a famous race. That outing drew outrage on the Gulf coast and an acerbic response from the White House.
More than 120 million gallons of oil have leaked already from the rig’s broken pipe, according to the most pessimistic U.S. government estimates. Oil has been washing up from Louisiana to Florida, killing birds and fish, coating marshes and wetlands and covering pristine beaches with tar balls and oily debris.
A pair of relief wells considered the best chance at a permanent fix won’t be completed until August.