Gulf oil spill: BP's Tony Hayward apologizes
After sitting and listening to 90 minutes of attacks on his company, BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward finally got his chance to apologize for the oil leak that has wracked the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking after a protester, smeared in black to mimic oil stains, disrupted Hayward's appearance at a congressional hearing with a cry that the BP chief be charged with a crime, the executive who has become the face of unhappiness with the nation’s worst environmental disaster gave his opening remarks.
“It never should have happened, and I am deeply sorry that it did,” Hayward said of the events that began with the April 20 explosion of a deep-water rig and the subsequent leak that has poured millions of barrels of oil into the gulf waters.
Hayward went on the offer his condolences to the families and friends of the 11 people who died in the explosion. “I can only begin to imagine their sorrow,” he said.
Hayward then shifted his comments to overall disaster. "I understand how serious the situation is,” he said. “It is a tragedy.”
“I want to speak directly to the people who live and work in the gulf region,” Hayward said. “I know this incident has had a profound impact. I deeply regret that. I also deeply regret the impact the spill has had on the environment.”
Throughout Hayward was contrite amid the high tensions running through the hearing room. “This is what it looks like in the gulf,” a woman shouted before Hayward spoke, waving her stained hands. “You need to be charged with a crime.”
She was taken out of the room by Capitol police.
Hayward had yet to face any questions from a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which recessed after his statement to allow members to vote. But the tenor of the hearing was unmistakable.
In their opening statements, panel members repeatedly said they were angry because BP documents showed the company had disregarded safety concerns at the oil rig site and had cut corners to save money. They were also angry about the size of leak, now running in the tens of thousands of barrels a day.
“We are doing everything we can to contain oil,” Hayward said, and he again repeated his pledge to “pay all necessary cleanup costs. I give my pledge we will not rest until we make this right.”
Hayward told the subcommittee on oversight and investigations that he was devastated by events and was personally sorry it happened.
His apology is hardly unexpected in the wake of BP’s agreement with the White House on Wednesday to finance a $20-billion escrow fund for victims of the oil disaster. However, the apology did not deter lawmakers from using the BP executive for political target practice.
Hayward has emerged as the face of BP that everyone loves to hate since the deep-water rig explosion. He has been excoriated for the company's inability to deal quickly and effectively with the leak and for reports that its well design and actions actually increased the likelihood of a blowout. Hayward also has been accused of not doing enough to prevent oil from hitting Gulf Coast shores and affecting fragile ecosystems, and of minimizing and trying to hide the size of the leak.
He also has been blamed for seemingly insensitive comments, such as when he remarked, “I’d like to get my life back,” which raised hackles among relatives of the 11 people killed, as well as those facing economic ruin.
President Obama, at one point, said he would have fired Hayward and on Wednesday pointedly did not mention the executive, although the president did praise BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg in announcing the escrow fund.
-- Richard Simon in Washington
-- Michael Muskal in Los Angeles
Photo: Tony Hayward listens to opening statements from members of Congress as he waits to deliver his opening remarks before a House hearing. Credit: AFP/ Getty Images
Hi-res photos: Gulf oil spill
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