When Tony Hayward became CEO of energy giant BP in 2007, he promised to "focus like a laser" on safety. Members of Congress today repeatedly reminded Hayward of that promise as they lambasted the British executive for his and BP's actions preceding the mammoth spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"As the entire country now knows, an uncontrolled blowout can kill rig workers and cause an environmental disaster," House Committee of Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told Hayward, who testified before the House today.
After reviewing 30,000 documents, Waxman said, the committee could "find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP were taking" with respect to the drilling of the well that would become the source of the spill.
"BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here, a few hours or days there," he said. "And now the whole Gulf coast is paying the price."
During his questioning of Hayward, Waxman accused the CEO of "stonewalling" after Hayward said he "wasn't involved in any of the decisionmaking" in the development of the well's design and declined to comment on whether BP made a risky decision in its choice of well design.
Other oil company executives have criticized the well's design, while BP documents show, according to Waxman, that BP could have spent several million more dollars on the well to implement a safer design.
"Why were the safety recommendations of your own engineers ignored?" Waxman asked.
Hayward countered that BP documents also showed that "the long-term integrity" of the well was best-served by the design that BP ultimately chose. The government's Mineral Management Service, he added, approved the well design.
"I'm just amazed at this testimony," Waxman responded. "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 the decisions."
Hayward later defended against committee members' assertions that BP had put cost savings ahead of safety in establishing the well, saying that he'd seen no evidence that that had happened. But Hayward also said he would not draw any conclusions about the accident until investigations into the disaster were completed -- a statement he reiterated several times throughout the hearing, much to the consternation of the congressmen questioning him.
"You're really insulting our intelligence, with all due respect, by not giving us any answers and telling us you have to wait for some investigation," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
Congressmen also blasted BP and Hayward for safety issues that came to light before the April spill. Rep. Bruce Baley, D-Iowa, noted that since the beginning of Hayward's tenure as CEO, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found 760 "egregious and willful" safety violations at BP refineries in the U.S.
"That doesn't sound like a company that is commited to safe and reliable operations," Baley said. "...There's a complete disconnect between your testimony and these OSHA findings."
Though most congressmen directed their criticism at Hayward and BP, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, also faulted the Obama administration, calling the $20 billion damages fund that BP recently agreed to a "shakedown" and apologized to Hayward.