US & Canada

BP hearing: Key clashes

The appearance of BP chief executive Tony Hayward in front of a US Congressional panel prompted some heated exchanges.

A number of representatives were angered by Mr Hayward's refusal to say what had gone wrong ahead of the conclusion of a BP investigation.


Representative Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, went through a litany of BP safety failings, including a Texas refinery fire and an Alaska pipeline spill.

He went on to ask very specific questions about the small number of "centralisers" used during the placing of well casing. Mr Hayward was pressed on the type of drilling fluid used.

"I'm not able to make a judgement as to whether the right choices were made," replied the chief executive. "I'm not, with respect, a drilling engineer."


Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, hit out at the way a $20bn BP claims fund to compensate victims of the spill had been established.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterise as a shakedown, a $20bn shakedown.

"I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologise."

Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts said the claims fund 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."

Mr Barton later apologised for his comments.

"I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House this morning, and I retract my apology to BP," he said in a statement.


Representative Michael Burgess, a Republican from Texas, said he was surprised by the length of time it took Mr Hayward to become aware of issues on the well.

Mr Hayward replied: "With due respect, we drill hundreds of wells around the world."

"Yeah, that's what scares me right now," countered Mr Burgess.


Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, Democratic representative for California, accused Mr Hayward of "stonewalling".

The allegation followed Mr Hayward's refusal to draw conclusions about the accident.

The chief executive replied: "I'm not stonewalling. I simply was not involved in the decision-making process."

But Mr Waxman was not happy.

"I'm just amazed at this testimony. Mr Hayward, you're not taking responsibility, you're kicking the can down the road and acting as if you have nothing to do with this company and nothing to do with the decisions. I find that irresponsible."


Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, brandished a picture of a pelican covered in oil as he questioned Mr Hayward.

Mr Scalise repeatedly quizzed Mr Hayward about the command structure that decided which protection projects were pursued.

And he emphasised the damage that was being done.

"I understand your concern and your anger," replied Mr Hayward.

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