BP CEO Hayward to Testify: 'I Fully Grasp the Terrible Reality'

BP CEO Tony Hayward is expected to try to reassure the public.

June 16, 2010 -- BP CEO Tony Hayward will try to reassure lawmakers that he fully understands the gravity of the massive oil leak in the Gulf, while acknowledging he does not have answers to serious questions the disaster has raised, when he testifies before a Congressional subcommittee Thursday.

"Since April 20, I have spent a great deal of my time in the Gulf Coast region and in the incident command center in Houston, and let there be no mistake -- I understand how serious this situation is," Hayward will say, according to a transcript of the testimony the embattled executive is expected to give before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

"This is a tragedy: people lost their lives; others were injured; and the Gulf Coast environment and communities are suffering," the transcript says. "This is unacceptable, I understand that, and let me be very clear: I fully grasp the terrible reality of the situation."

However, the testimony, which will come one day after Hayward met with President Barack Obama to pledge to put $20 billion in an escrow account to compensate people affected by the Gulf coast oil spill, offers no clear explanations for -- or solutions to -- what has happened.

"How could this happen? How damaging is the spill to the environment? Why is it taking so long to stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf?" the script of the testimony continues. "Can we as a society explore for oil and gas in safer and more reliable ways? What is the appropriate regulatory framework for the industry?

"We don't yet have answers to all these important questions."

The testimony also outlines steps BP has taken so far to stop the flow of oil and minimize the environmental and economic impacts from the oil spill, the largest in the country's history.

On Wednesday, the president said he was "pleased" with BP's $20 billion pledge.

"The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them," Obama said. "BP has publicly pledged to make good on the claims it owes to people in the Gulf. And so, the agreement we reached will set up the financial and legal framework in which to do it."

The president said that the $20 billion figure is not a cap but will "provide substantial assurance that the claims people and businesses have will be honored."

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg announced after the meeting that the company's board has decided it will not pay stockholders any further dividends this year.

"We made it clear to the president that words are not enough. We understand that we will and we should be judged by our actions," he said.

Svanberg also apologized for the oil spill.

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the American people on behalf of all the employees of BP many of whom are living on the Gulf cast," he said. "I too thank you for the patience that you have in this difficult time. Through our actions and commitments we hope that over long-term that we will regain the trust that you have in us."

The oil company also pledged to establish a separate $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of other deep water rigs as a result of the April 20 explosion.

Obama said today that BP's liabilities for the Gulf spill are "significant" and said his administration will continue to hold them and other responsible parties accountable.

"I'm absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people," he said. "BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remains so. This is about accountability. At the end of the day, that's what every American wants and expects."

BP will initially make payments of $3 billion in the third quarter of 2010 and $2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010. These will be followed by a payment of $1.25 billion per quarter until a total of $20 billion has been paid in full.

The compensation fund will be run by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the compensation fund for families of 9/11 victims and also oversees salary limits for companies getting federal bailout money.

Residents and businesses that have suffered an economic loss because of the Gulf spill are eligible to file a claim for part of the $20 billion fund. Obama said this will not supersede any individuals' or states' rights to bring their own claims to court.

The announcements came after Obama met with BP executives today to push them to take responsibility for the financial damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, attempting to make good on his Tuesday promise to the country that his administration will fight the "epidemic" in the Gulf Coast with "everything we've got for as long it takes" and make BP "pay for the damage the company has caused."

Obama said he emphasized to Svanberg that he has learned from talking with business owners on his visits to the Gulf Region that "this is not just a matter of dollars and cents; that a lot of these folks don't have a cushion."

The president said that the region was just beginning to dig itself out from the devastating hurricanes five years ago that severely impacted the local economy. That combined with an overall struggling American economy has made this oil spill even more destructive to the local way of life.

"I emphasized to the chairman that when he's talking to shareholders, when he is in meetings in his boardroom, to keep in mind those individuals; that they are desperate; that some of them, if they don't get relief quickly, may lose businesses that have been in their families for two or three generations," he said.

Svanberg said after the meeting that Obama came across as "frustrated" because of his concerns about "the small people."

Obama Meets BP Executives

The BP chairman seemed frustrated at the notion that his company does not share those concerns.

"We care about the small people," he told reporters at the White House. "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don't care, but that is not the case in BP, we care about the small people."

The company was represented in the meeting by Svanberg and Hayward. Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and other members of his Cabinet.

It was the first time the president has met with any BP executives since the spill began on April 20, after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.

After weeks of confusion and criticism, Obama's speech Tuesday night -- his first nationally televised address from the Oval Office -- was an attempt to be seen as a commanding commander-in-chief, in a different kind of war.

The address, in which he promised a long-term recovery plan for the Gulf coast and to push BP to pay for the damages, was met with a mix of skepticism and optimism in the nation's hardest hit areas, along with a flurry of criticism from Republicans.

The president vowed that the war "assaulting our shores and our citizens" would be fought on several fronts -- cleaning up the oil and containing the environmental damage through burning, skimming and barriers, then stopping the gusher under the sea; pushing BP to take responsibility for the economic losses; and taking steps to ensure that such a disaster doesn't happen again.

The president also pushed for a new emphasis on renewable clean energy, a focus Republicans rejected.

"Fifty days ago, I think it's a speech that would've worked. Last night, it seems as if it just faded into the night," Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, said on "Good Morning America" today. "He didn't jump on this crisis as soon as it began and he's had a hard time recovering every since. ... It wasn't his fault, he didn't cause it, but as president, you want the president to quickly move to rally. That's been lacking."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who is spearheading energy legislation efforts for his party, chided the president for pushing an energy bill.

"The president should spend more time focusing on cleaning up and containing the oil spill and less time trying to pass a national energy tax that will drive jobs overseas looking for cheap energy," Alexander said. "After that, Congress can enact legislation to help electrify half our cars and trucks, which is the single best way to reduce our dependence on oil."

But the president's supporters say his speech was effective in that it sought to reassure the American people that the government has a long term plan for restoring the Gulf Coast.

Former vice president and environmentalist Al Gore also applauded Obama's call to action on energy legislation.

"The president is right to focus on stopping the spill and working to limit, to the degree possible, its impact on the Gulf ecosystem," Gore, founder and chairman of environmental group The Alliance for Climate Protection, said in a statement. "But ultimately the only way to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again is to fundamentally change how we power our economy."

He reassured people "he had a battle plan," Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and ABC News consultant, said on "GMA" today.

"I thought it was a very important speech because we're at a critical moment," Brazile said. "People are now worried about the oil coming ashore, they're worried about their livelihood, they're worried about the long-term economic impact, and I think the president today will also add a little bit more ingredients to what I believe he laid out last night, by saying how much money will be put aside" by BP for Gulf coast residents.

The government and independent scientists estimate that between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil a day are still spewing from the well, a number far worse than previously estimated. BP's attempts to capture all the oil has so far been unsuccessful despite the use of new equipment and technology. BP says it will be able to capture up to 25,000 barrels a day by later this week, up from 15,000 barrels per day that's currently being capped.

On Tuesday, Obama pushed lawmakers to speed up the passage of an energy bill -- although he did not specify what he would want to see in such legislation.

"One of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling," the president said. "The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now."

"As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs -- but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment," he added.

Obama also announced Tuesday that he has nominated Navy Secretary and former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus to head restoration plans.

Gulf Coast Residents React to Obama's Speech

On the Gulf coast, residents keenly watched the president's address. Some said watching Obama reassure them from the White House gave them hope and a sense that visiting the region first-hand made a difference for the president.

"I think we're seeing a change in how he's handling the situation and I hope for the better," said one Alabama resident.

Others said the president needs to do more on the ground.

"What I would have liked to have heard from him? That he actually had a plan," said Pensacola, Fla., resident Shelley Aspery.

"If we're at war as he says we are, then why aren't we bringing everybody into the picture that offered their help?" asked Charlie Brown.

Even before the president spoke, frustration had already given way to anger.

"I think it's lacking," one New Orleans resident said of the president's response. "I don't think he's responded to what we're going to do about the cleanup issues."

Before the president addressed the nation Tuesday night, most Americans said they were unhappy with the federal government's response to the oil spill. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week, 69 percent rated the federal response negatively and 64 percent said the government should pursue criminal charges against BP. An AP/GfK poll released Tuesday found similar results, with 52 percent saying they don't approve of Obama's handling of the spill.

Yet some Gulf coast residents say the responsibility doesn't lie solely in the hands of the president.

"I don't really think that's totally our president's job," said Alan Priest. "I think it's our responsibility as citizens to do that if we care about this place."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, Andy Miller, Z. Byron Wolf, and Sam Champion and Jay Shaylor contributed to this report.