BP America President Lamar McKay told senators the company is "making every effort to keep the public and government officials informed of what is happening."
"BP executives have regularly briefed the President's Cabinet and National Security Council team, members of Congress, the governors and attorneys general of the Gulf Coast states, and many local officials."
Carefully guarding the flow of information has been a hallmark of BP's response to oil field disasters, according to Brent Coon, a lawyer who represented victims of a BP oil refinery explosion in Texas City.
"Less than three hours after the BP Texas City plant erupted in fire, blasting out windows miles away, BP already had their PR and damage control team in place," Coon said, citing an internal corporate email in which BP officials predict coverage of the explosion would subside after the holiday weekend.
Attention to handling the media response to a major oil spill was just one focus of the four elaborate exercises staged by the U.S. Coast Guard over the past decade, the after action reports show.
As early as 2002, the practice runs also indicated that oil companies lacked updated equipment to mount an effective response to a spill, and would need to be forced by the government to invest in better technology.
"Without requirements in place to require use of new response technologies they will not be developed and deployed adequately," said an after-action report from the summer 2002 drill that simulated an oil leak from a sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was eerily similar to the current disaster. "There is little incentive for [oil companies] to invest in them and therefore, little incentive for technology companies to develop or refine these technologies further."
Those requirements were never forced on the companies and, as a result, the oil spill response underway in the Gulf is being mounted with booms and skimmers that some industry experts described as antiquated and of limited value.
"The technology that's being used on the surface is over 30 years old," said Jerome Milgram, a professor of marine technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I can say this. I don't see any practical effect for putting out booms when the sea conditions are such that the booms are totally ineffective."
BP's "worst case" scenario for a huge oil spill in the Gulf relies heavily on being able to boom and skim a half million barrels a day, according to the oil spill response plan the company filed with federal regulators.
Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club, called that "fantasy." "These are not serious plans, and yet the government accepts them as a basis for drilling," he said.
The nation has been gripped by scenes of a massive oil slick spreading across the Gulf of Mexico since the BP-operated Horizon Deepwater rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later leaving behind a massive oil leak that has yet to be contained.
Oil industry officials told members of Congress Tuesday that new technology is being used to combat the ongoing spill. In response to questions, they identified the use of dispersants to attack the spill under water as a new approach that had been honed over the past several years. But they also acknowledged that a spill at this depth has presented them with problems they weren't prepared for.