BP’s CEO hearing rhetorical broadsides in Congress
Published 7:38 pm Thursday, June 17, 2010
BP’s humbled CEO sat grim-faced Thursday as a House chairman accused him of being oblivious to the risks of his company’s deep water operations, then testified he was “deeply sorry” for the catastrophic Gulf coast oil spill.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told the BP executive that in his committee’s review of 30,000 items, there was “not a single e-mail or document that you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”
More than eight weeks after the spill began and a day after BP agreed to a $20 billion victims’ compensation fund, Hayward said under oath to lawmakers that he was “personally devastated” by the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the giant spill — and that he understands the anger that Americans feel toward him and his company.
Before beginning his own testimony, Hayward was buffeted by scathing criticism from lawmakers from both parties for more than an hour.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, played a heard-wrenching video from a committee session on the Gulf Coast in which two widows whose husbands were killed in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion suggested that GP had put profits before safety. “These are now widows with small children to take care of, and they are the symbols and the faces of this disaster,” Braley said.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he agreed with the call of Democrats on the panel for answers. But Barton accused the White House of conducting a “$20 billion shakedown” by requiring oil giant BP to establish a fund to compensate those hurt by the Gulf Coast oil spill.
“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House” on Wednesday, Barton said.
But Rep. Ed Markey disagreed, saying it was “not a slush fund, not a shakedown. … It was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now, the residents of the Gulf.”
“It’s BP’s spill,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, “but it is America’s ocean, and it is America’s citizens who are being harmed. … No, this is not a shakedown of the company.”
Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said that BP “appears to have taken their eye off the ball.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, told Hayward “BP has not learned from previous mistakes.”
Some of the sharpest criticism came from Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. “We are not small people. But we wish to get our lives back,” he told Hayward. “I’m sure you’ll get your life back, and with a golden parachute to England.”
It was a reference to Hayward’s much-criticized earlier remark that some day he hoped to get “my life back” and to comments on the White House driveway on Wednesday by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg that “we care about the small people” of the Gulf Coast.
Hayward received $4.7 million in 2009 in total salary, performance bonus and other non-cash compensation, roughly 27 percent higher than the $3.7 million he received a year earlier, according to an AP review of filings available on BP’s Web site
Hayward sipped a beverage and jotted notes as one lawmaker after another scorched him.
A group of protesters milled in the hallway outside the hearing room, including Diane Wilson, 61, a fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas, near the Gulf Coast. Wilson, appearing with a black-stained hand, said she wanted to send a message: “Hayward should go to jail.”
She was joined by Ann Wright, 63, of Honolulu, Hawaii, who wore a BP hard hat, overalls and sunglasses adorned with dollar signs.
“BP doesn’t really care about this,” she said, pulling out an oil-stained rubber ducky.
Waxman opened the hearing with rare praise for the oil giant. “Yesterday, BP pledged to establish a $20 billion escrow account and to suspend its dividend payments for the rest of the year. I’m sure these were not easy decisions for you, but they were the right ones, and I commend you for them,” he told the embattled CEO.
But then the gloves came off. “When you became CEO of BP, you promised to focus like a laser on safe and reliable operations,” Waxman said. “We wanted to know what you had done to keep this promise.”
“We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP was taking. We’ve reviewed 30,000 pages of documents from BP, including your e-mails. There is not a single e- mail or document that shows you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”
Waxman asserted that Hayward and his top deputies “were apparently oblivious to what was happening” and had been ignoring danger signs on the well in the days before it exploded.
But Rep. Parker Griffith, R-Ala., offered counterpoint to the waves of criticism of BP. He suggested that cigarette smoking, not the BP oil spill, was the nation’s worst environmental catastrophe.
“This is not going to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to America,” Griffith said.
As of Thursday morning, the BP well has gushed between 66 million and 120 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, based on government daily spill rate figures.
In prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press, Hayward said the explosion and sinking of the BP-operated rig “never should have happened — and I am deeply sorry that they did.”
Newly disclosed documents obtained by the AP show that after the Deepwater Horizon sank, BP made a worst-case estimate of 2.5 million gallons a day flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. That figure is far higher than the company had said publicly until this week, when the government released its own worst-case estimate of about that amount.
The undated estimate by BP, apparently made sometime last month, reflected the actual situation as it was understood by BP at the time, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, obtained the documents as part of an investigation into the oil spill and its aftermath.
Grassley said it was not clear when exactly BP made the calculation. “Certainly Americans have a right to know that BP made these estimates, the date these estimates were determined and why they were not disclosed at that time,” he said Wednesday.