WASHINGTON – Channeling the nation’s anger, lawmakers laid into BP’s boss in a withering day of judgment Thursday for the oil company at the center of the Gulf calamity. Unflinching, BP chief executive Tony Hayward said he was out of the loop on decisions at the well.
That infuriated members of Congress even more, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Testifying as oil still surged into the Gulf of Mexico and coated ever more coastal land and marshes, Hayward declared “I am so devastated with this accident,” “deeply sorry” and “so distraught.”
Yet the oil man disclaimed knowledge of any of the problems on and under the Deepwater Horizon rig before the deadly explosion, telling Congress he had only heard about the well earlier in April, the month of the accident, when the BP drilling team told him it had found oil.
“With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year around the world,” Hayward told Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas.
“Yes, I know,” Burgess shot back. “That’s what’s scaring me right now.”
With multiple investigations continuing and primary efforts in the Gulf focused on stopping the leak, there was little chance the nation would learn much from Hayward’s appearance about what caused the disaster. Yet even modest expectations were not met as the CEO told lawmakers at every turn that he was not tuned in to operations at the well.
He said his underlings made the decisions and federal regulators were responsible for vetting them.
Hayward spoke slowly and calmly in his clipped British accent as he sought to deflect accusations – based on internal BP documents – that BP chose a particular well design that was riskier but cheaper by at least $7 million.
“I wasn’t involved in any of that decision-making,” he said.
At one point a frustrated California Rep. Henry Waxman, Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, interrupted the CEO. “You’re kicking the can down the road and acting as if you had nothing to do with this company and nothing to do with the decisions. I find that irresponsible.”
Hayward quietly insisted: “I’m not stonewalling. I simply was not involved in the decision-making process.”