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BP CEO’s Testimony Draws Upbraiding by Many on House Energy Panel

June 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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BP CEO Tony Hayward faced criticism Thursday from both parties at a U.S. House hearing over his company's Gulf disaster response and business practices. Jim Lehrer recaps the developments on Capitol Hill as oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico.
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JIM LEHRER: It was a long, tense day at a U.S. House hearing today for the chief executive of BP. Tony Hayward faced a barrage of questions and criticism over the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-Calif.: BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing.

JIM LEHRER: Hayward sat grimly for much of the day, as hard words rained down from members of both parties.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP was taking.

REP. JOHN SULLIVAN, R-Okla.: Why is BP’s record on safety so spotty?

REP. MIKE ROSS, D-Ark.: Since this hearing began, a little over an hour ago, up to 112,847 gallons have been dumped into the Gulf.

JIM LEHRER: It had been widely expected the BP boss would get an earful from angry lawmakers. But he also received an unexpected apology from Republican Joe Barton of Texas.

REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday.

JIM LEHRER: Barton was criticizing the announcement that BP would set up a $20 billion fund to pay damage claims.

REP. JOE BARTON: I think it’s a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subject — subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case, a $20 billion shakedown.

JIM LEHRER: Barton is one of the largest recipients of campaign money from the oil and gas industry.

And his statement brought rebukes in the hearing and elsewhere. Vice President Joe Biden weighed in at the White House.

JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: There’s no shakedown. It’s insisting on responsible conduct and a responsible response to something they caused. And I find it outrageous to suggest that if, in fact, we insisted that BP demonstrate their preparedness to put aside billions of dollars, in this case $20 billion, to take care of the immediate needs of people who are drowning.

JIM LEHRER: Later, Congressman Barton said his remarks had been misconstrued.

REP. JOE BARTON: I want the record to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible, and should in every way do everything possible to make good on the consequences that have resulted from this accident.

REP. BART STUPAK, D-Mich.: I’m going to ask you to please rise, raise your right hand, and take the oath.

JIM LEHRER: Hayward’s turn to speak came after 90 minutes of the hearing, when he finally rose to be sworn. But he was promptly interrupted by a protester.

PROTESTER: You need to go to jail!

JIM LEHRER: When the outburst subsided, the BP chief set an apologetic tone in his prepared remarks, and he pledged again to make right the wrongs done by his firm.

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should have happened. And I’m deeply sorry that it did.

We will not rest until we make this right. We’re a strong company, and no resources will be spared.

JIM LEHRER: But, beyond that statement, Hayward had few details on the disaster, the cleanup, or his role.

TONY HAYWARD: I’m not an oceanographic scientist. I’m not the drilling engineer, so I’m not actually qualified to make those judgments.

JIM LEHRER: The man chairing the hearing, Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan, hammered away at allegations that BP took shortcuts on the deepwater well.

REP. BART STUPAK: Are you trying to tell me you have not reached a conclusion that BP really cut corners here?

TONY HAYWARD: I think it’s too early to reach conclusions with respect, Mr. Chairman. The investigations are ongoing.

REP. BART STUPAK: Do you expect to be CEO of BP much longer?

TONY HAYWARD: I’m — at the moment, I’m focused on the response. I think everyone here believes that the highest priority is to stop the leak.

JIM LEHRER: Internal BP documents show the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation was fraught with problems. One company engineer called it a nightmare well.

Republican Michael Burgess of Texas picked up on that point today.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, R-Texas: Were you privy then to any other information, the difficulties that they’d had, the multiple gas kicks, the losing tools down the hole, the length of time they’d been over the hole, the decisions to move quickly because we’d spent too much time over this well?

TONY HAYWARD: I had no prior knowledge…

(CROSSTALK)

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS: Who would have had that information?

TONY HAYWARD: Certainly the drilling team in the Gulf of Mexico. As…

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS: But you’re the CEO of the company. And…

TONY HAYWARD: And with respect…

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS: Do you have any sort of technical expert who — who — who helps you with these things who might have been there?

TONY HAYWARD: With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS: Yes, I know. That’s what’s scaring me right now.

JIM LEHRER: As the hearing wore on, California Democrat Henry Waxman drilled in on Hayward’s reluctance to say more.

TONY HAYWARD: I’m not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such time as the investigation is concluded.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Well, this is an investigation. And we expect you to cooperate with us. Are you failing to cooperate with other investigators, as well? Because they’re going to have a hard time reaching conclusions if you stonewall them, which is what we seem to be getting today.

TONY HAYWARD: I’m not stonewalling.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I’m just amazed at this testimony. Mr. Hayward, you’re not taking responsibility.

JIM LEHRER: But several Republicans criticized the Obama White House in equal or greater measure for its response to the spill.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, R-Tenn.: The lack of effort by this administration to contain the spill has doomed the economy and wildlife of the Gulf Coast from an oil spill which could have been contained.

REP. PHIL GINGREY, R-Ga.: I have heard some assert that it was lax oversight of the previous administration that led to this accident. Well, if that’s the case, why did this not happen during the last decade?

JIM LEHRER: Meantime, the man in charge of the federal response, Admiral Thad Allen, talked of progress on drilling relief wells to stop the oil flow. He spoke at the Capitol.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, National Incident Commander: Well, British Petroleum has what they call a depth-to-day ratio. What depth should they be at by a certain day? They’re slightly ahead of that. So, that’s promising.

But given some of the technical difficulties we have run into in putting the containment cap on and given the great depths they’re working at, I don’t think we ought to be taking a look that this — or assuming this will happen any time sooner than the first two weeks of August.

JIM LEHRER: That’s nearly two months away. And with August also comes the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Some on the Gulf Coast say that disaster could pale in comparison once the final damage from oil is assessed.

DAVID FRAZIER, Gulf Coast Resident: It was a lot worse than Katrina was, because we was able to come back from Katrina. And, if this comes back, I don’t know if we will ever be able to — you know, if this comes here, I don’t know if we will ever be able to come back.

JIM LEHRER: To date, 59 days into the disaster, up to 120 million gallons of oil have fouled the Gulf of Mexico.