WASHINGTON, DC – BP chief executive Tony Hayward came under intense fire at a House hearing on Thursday for paying little attention to risks being run at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before it exploded and caught fire on April 20.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said internal BP e-mails and briefing papers revealed no hint that either Hayward himself or his firm’s top drilling and exploration officials knew or cared about warnings from Deepwater Horizon workers that they were drilling what one called a “nightmare well.”
“BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing,” said Representative Waxman.
Opening statements from lawmakers ran almost 1-1/2 hours. Hayward’s own opening statement was then interrupted by a protester, who appeared to be slathered with oil, leaping up and saying the CEO should “go to jail.”
Diane Wilson, the protester who interrupted Hayward’s statement, is a fourth-generation Texas fisherwoman and co-founder of the protest group Code Pink. She conducted a similar protest June 9, interrupting a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Gulf oil spill by dousing herself with a jar of syrup, meant to look like oil.
An emotionless Tony Hayward testifies in front of Congress on Gulf oil spill.
The main message Hayward delivered in his initial remarks was, in essence, that he feels the US Gulf Coast pain. Workers lost their lives, and the communities and economy of the states that border the Gulf of Mexico are suffering, he noted.
“Let me be very clear: I fully grasp the terrible reality of the situation,” said Hayward.
Hayward then listed facts and figures about BP’s response – feet of boom laid, number of ships and skimmers deployed, and so forth. But he was not there to talk about the past, in terms of why the accident happened. Blame for the spill should await the outcome of multiple ongoing investigations, he said.
“The truth … is that this is a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures,” said Hayward. “A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early to understand the cause.”
Waxman, however, cited internal e-mails obtained by his committee that appeared to show a lack of interest at BP in alleged problems such as cementing difficulties with the well pipes.
“Who cares? It’s done. End of story. We’ll probably be fined,” said one such internal BP memo, as cited by Waxman.
When Tony Hayward became CEO of energy giant BP in 2007, he promised to “focus like a laser” on safety. Members of Congress today repeatedly reminded Hayward of that promise as they lambasted the British executive for his and BP’s actions leading up to the mammoth spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“As the entire country now knows, an uncontrolled blowout can kill rig workers and cause an environmental disaster,” House Committee of Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told Hayward, who testified before the House today.
After reviewing 30,000 documents, Waxman said, the committee could “find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP were taking” with respect to the drilling of the well that would become the source of the spill.
“BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here, a few hours or days there,” he said. “And now the whole Gulf coast is paying the price.”
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, said he was with Waxman and the chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing, Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, regarding to their desire to hold BP accountable for its actions.
But he took the opportunity of the hearing’s opening to blast the White House for its role in pushing BP to set up a $20 billion contingency fund to pay for cleanup and damages to victims of the spill.
“I’m ashamed that a private corporation can be subjected to what I characterize as a shakedown,” said Representative Barton.
Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts disagreed with his colleague, saying, “this is not a shakedown. This is ensuring … the company is held accountable.”