Facing rough waters in Washington, oil driller Transocean beefs up lobbying, PR

An offshore drilling company tied to the massive Gulf oil spill is boosting its lobbying and public relations team as the number of congressional inquiries expands.

Transocean Ltd. recently signed Capitol Hill Consulting Group, which includes a former Democratic congressman and a top energy advisor to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), to lobby for an undisclosed sum, according to federal lobbying records.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that caught on fire April 20 and eventually sank, triggering the ongoing spill. Eleven workers died in the explosion.

In addition to Capitol Hill Consulting, Transocean has also hired FD Public Affairs to help it deal with the media onslaught.

Transocean’s lobbying team includes former Oklahoma Democratic Congressman Bill Brewster, who served in the House from 1991 to 1997, and Jack Victory, who handled energy policy for DeLay.

Brian Kennedy, a former spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) who now runs FD’s energy and environment practice, is helping develop a media strategy for the company.

BP, which owns the well and leased the drilling rig from Transocean, has also beefed up its Washington team, hiring public relations powerhouse The Brunswick Group.

A number of committees are probing the disaster. Three panels delved last week into what might  have caused the spill, and at least five more panels will examine the disaster and its potential fallout this week.

A House committee investigation has uncovered a number of problems with a key safety device known as a blow-out preventer and found the well failed a critical pressure test hours before the deadly explosion.

Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean, testified at all three hearings. He is scheduled to offer testimony and answer questions before two more panels this week.

Newman has blamed faulty casing and concrete seals for the blow-out, which led to the massive fire on the Deepwater rig.

BP America CEO Lamar McKay, meanwhile, pointed a finger at Transocean, saying that, as drilling operator, the company was responsible for ensuring the safety of the rig.

The finger pointing prompted a rebuke from President Barack Obama, who said last week that the testimony was a “ridiculous spectacle.”

In terms of presence in Washington, BP would seem to have a big advantage over Transocean. The oil behemoth spent nearly $16 million on lobbying last year. But much of the congressional anger at the hearings was directed at BP, which has had other safety issues in recent years.

Transocean has had only a small presence in Washington up to now. It hired Ernst & Young to lobby on tax issues, although the contract was terminated last year, according to federal lobbying records.

In addition to testifying before congressional panels, executives from the companies involved with the spill have also provided at least five congressional briefings on the accident and responded to a number of document requests from the ongoing inquires. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the oversight and investigations panel had collected around 100,000 pages of documents prior to its hearing last week on what might have caused the accident.