“I’m not stonewalling”

BP chief says he wasn't in loop, enraging Congress

Topics: Gulf Oil Spill,

Channeling the nation’s anger, lawmakers pilloried 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 and coolly asserted, “I’m not stonewalling.”

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 myriad problems on and under the Deepwater Horizon rig before the deadly explosion, telling a congressional hearing 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 scaring me right now.”

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., told the CEO: “I think you’re copping out. You’re the captain of the ship.” Democrats were similarly, if more predictably, livid.

“BP blew it,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the House investigations panel that held the hearing. “You cut corners to save money and time.”

The verbal onslaught had been anticipated for days and unfolded at a nearly relentless pace. Hayward had one seemingly sympathetic listener, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who apologized for the pressure President Barack Obama had put on BP to create a compensation fund. Hours later, after criticism from Republicans and Democrats as well as the White House, Barton backed off and apologized for his apology.

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 obtained by congressional investigators — 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.

Were bad decisions made about the cement?

“I wasn’t part of the decision-making process,” he said. “I’m not a cement engineer, I’m afraid.”

Also, “I am not a drilling engineer” and “I’m not an oceanographic scientist.”

What about those reports that BP had been experiencing a variety of problems and delays at the well?

“I had no prior knowledge.”

At one point a frustrated Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the 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.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., voiced the committee’s frustrations as the afternoon wore on. “You’re really insulting our intelligence,” he said. “I am thoroughly disgusted.”

Waxman 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.”

Burgess slammed both the CEO and the government regulators for a risky drilling plan that he said never should have been brought forward.

“Shame on you, Mr. Hayward, for submitting it,” Burgess said, “but shame on us for accepting it, which is simply a rubber stamp.”

You Might Also Like

In a jarring departure that caught fellow Republicans by surprise, Barton, the top GOP member of the panel, used his opening statement to apologize — twice — for the pressure put on the company by President Barack Obama to contribute to a compensation fund for people in the afflicted Gulf of Mexico states.

Barton said the U.S. has “a due process system” to assess such damages, and he decried the $20 billion fund that BP agreed to Wednesday at the White House as a “shakedown” and “slush fund.” He told Hayward, “I’m not speaking for anybody else. But I apologize.”

He later retracted his apologies to BP, then apologized anew — this time for calling the fund a “shakedown.” “BP should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident,” he said, and “fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt by this accident.”

Barton’s earlier remarks were clearly an embarrassment for the party. House Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued a statement asserting: “Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.”

Since 1990, oil and gas industry political action committees and employees have given more than $1.4 million to Barton’s campaigns, the most of any House member during that period, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

As Hayward began to testify, a protester disrupted the hearing and was forcibly removed from the room by Capitol police. The woman was identified as Diane Wilson, 61, a shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, near the Gulf Coast. Her hands stained black, she shouted to Hayward from the back of the room: “You need to be charged with a crime.”

Stupak, the subcommittee chairman and a former Michigan state trooper, noted that over the past five years, 26 people have died and 700 have been injured in BP accidents — including the Gulf spill, a pipeline spill in Alaska and a refinery explosion in Texas.

Hayward argued that safety had always been his top priority and “that is why I am so devastated with this accident.” When he became CEO in 2007, Hayward said he would focus “like a laser” on safety, a phrase he repeated on Thursday.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., questioned BP’s commitment to safety.

BP had 760 safety violations in the past five years and paid $373 million in fines, Sullivan said. By contrast, Sunoco and ConocoPhillips each had eight safety violations and ExxonMobil just one, Sullivan said.

“How in the heck do you explain that?” he asked Hayward. Hayward said most of those violations predated his tenure as CEO. “We have made major changes in the company over the last three to four years,” he said.

An estimated 73.5 million to 126 million gallons of oil has come out of the breached wellhead, whether into the water or captured.

The reservoir that feeds the well still holds about 2 billion gallons of oil, according to the first public estimate Hayward has given of the size of the undersea oil field.

That means the reservoir is believed to still hold 94 percent to 97 percent of its oil. At the current flow rate, it would take from two years to nearly four years for all the oil to be drained from it.

——

Associated Press writers Tom Raum, Matthew Daly, H. Josef Hebert, Seth Borenstein, Matt Apuzzo, Eileen Sullivan and Ben Feller in Washington and Harry Weber in Houston contributed to this report.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>