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BP chief 'not involved' in decisions aboard failed oil rig

4 min

Grilled by the US Congress on Thursday, BP chief Tony Hayward said he was "not involved in the decision-making process" aboard the collapsed rig now gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico but vowed BP would pay for the resulting environmental damage.


AFP - Under fire for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP chief Tony Hayward coolly told angry US lawmakers Thursday he was "not a cement engineer," "not an oceanographic scientist," and not in the loop.

Sitting alone at a long witness table 59 days after the disaster struck, he sometimes stammered but never really wavered as lawmakers vainly drilled him for information and protesters with blackened hands cried for justice.

Members of a key House committee, the first to hear publicly from Hayward since the April 20 explosion that touched off the catastrophe, increasingly vented their frustrations as he ducked and dodged their questions.

"I'm not a cement engineer, I'm afraid," he told one lawmaker. "I'm not an oceanographic scientist," he told another. "I'm not prepared to speculate," he told a third. "I'm not the drilling engineer," a fourth heard.

"I'm not stonewalling. I simply was not involved in the decision-making process" aboard the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform before the blast, he said. "I don't mean to be evasive or difficult."

Lawmakers glared at Hayward, who sometimes took sips from a cup of ice water, jotted down quick notes, or adjusted the long, skinny microphone before him, and often scolded him or gave free rein to their irritation.

"I'm sitting here thinking I could be a CEO of an oil company. I hear it pays a little bit better than being a member of Congress. Because I've watched you in front of this committee, and you're not able to give us much information on anything here," said Democratic Representative Mike Doyle.

Frustration spurred Republican Representative Cliff Stearns to ask "is today Thursday?" -- which Hayward, in a quiet near-mumble, gamely answered: "It is Thursday."

And Democratic Representative Bruce Braley jokingly wondered aloud whether a language barrier might be to blame: "I realize that we speak the same language, but it's not always the same language, when we speak English in the United States and English in Great Britain."

Hayward had no visible reaction at all when, a few words into his testimony, an anguished protester leapt up in the crowd, waving blackened hands and called out: "You need to be charged with a crime, Tony ... you need to go to jail!"

The activist group CODEPINK said the woman had been arrested and identified her as Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman from the Gulf.

Hayward also sat impassively, hands clasped, as a video of widows of those killed aboard the platform demanded retribution, with one saying "this tragedy will not be in vain" if global energy titans are held to account.

And if he glimpsed Hollywood star Kevin Costner come into the hearing for a few minutes, or had an emotional response when a lawmaker brandished a framed photograph of an oil-coated pelican, he did not show it.

Yet his dark business suit amounted to a corporate hairshirt as he made the show of contrition required by the high political theater, declaring himself "personally devastated" by the deaths of 11 workers aboard the platform.

"I am very, very, sorry," he said. "I'm devastated by the accident, absolutely devastated. And I feel great sorrow for the people who have been impacted by it."

But "better people than I were involved in those decisions, in terms of the judgments that were taken. And if our investigation determines that at any time people put costs ahead of safety, then we will take action," said Hayward.

"With all due respect, Mr Hayward, I think you're copping out. You're the captain of the ship," chided Republican Representative Phil Gingrey, one of many lawmakers expressing astonishment that the BP chief did not know more.

Prodded by Republican Representative Michael Burgess of Texas about the extent of his personal knowledge of the well before the blast, Hayward replied: "With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world."

"Yes, I know. That's what's scaring me right now," Burgess shot back.


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