Many share blame for oil spill, BP chief tells British committee

By David Stringer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

LONDON - Outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward said Wednesday that he understands the anger directed at the energy giant in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but he insisted that his company had a strong safety record and was not solely to blame for the disaster.

Testifying before a British parliamentary committee, Hayward acknowledged that BP had failed both to stop the spill and to plan adequately to respond to an accident of that scale.

"I understand why people feel the way they do, and there is little doubt that the inability of BP, and the industry, to intervene to seal the leak . . . was unacceptable," he said.

Hayward appeared relaxed and confident addressing lawmakers in his native Britain, unlike at a testy June hearing in Washington before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which angrily accused him of stonewalling.

He said the Macondo well's April 20 explosion, which killed 11 workers and triggered the massive spill, was "devastating to me personally," and he insisted that safety and training standards will improve industrywide.

But he said it is wrong to attach blame only to BP.

"No single factor caused the accident, and multiple parties, including BP, Halliburton and Transocean, were involved," he said, echoing his comments last week when BP released the results of an internal investigation. Halliburton cemented the Macondo wellhead, and Transocean operated the oil rig.

Hayward - who will be replaced Oct. 1 by Bob Dudley, an American - also told Parliament's Energy and Climate Change Committee that the extent of the spill's environmental impact is unclear. "No one knows today the environmental impact of this," he said.

The committee's chairman, Tim Yeo, a Conservative and a former environment minister, challenged Hayward about his statement - made when he took his post in 2007 - that he would focus "laser-like on safety."

"On your watch as chief executive, in that three years, now we've had the biggest-ever oil spill in U.S. waters," Yeo said.

Though the British panel largely eschewed the combative style of the House committee, Hayward was repeatedly pressed on whether he believes that the response in the United States toward BP has been unfair.

"There was an enormous amount of emotion and anger, and it was very understandable," he said, declining to criticize the reaction from the White House or the American public.

The committee is considering whether additional regulation is needed in Britain and whether the U.K. government was right not to follow President Obama's lead in imposing a moratorium on new deepwater drilling.

The British committee has previously heard evidence from Transocean. It will issue a series of recommendations on safety, probably before the end of the year, but it has no powers to compel Britain's Conservative-led government to accept its findings.

- Associated Press

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