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Gulf oil spill: BP's Tony Hayward testifies Thursday

The grilling is expected to be intense Thursday when BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward appears before the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, which is looking into the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here's a bit of his prepared remarks, for those who just can't wait:

"I fully grasp the terrible reality of the situation.... I hear the concerns, fears, frustration -- and anger -- being voiced across the country." Hayward wrote that he expected those feelings to continue until the leak is stopped "and until we prove through our actions that we will do the right thing."

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who has been moved to tears over the destruction to his home state, said Wednesday: "I’m going to try not to be angry."

Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who are leading the committee probe, asked Hayward to be prepared to respond to their findings that the company appeared to have made decisions about well design that increased the risk of a blowout in order to save time and money.

In his written testimony, Hayward said that an investigation thus far "suggests that this accident was brought about by the apparent failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment."

"I understand people want a simple answer about why this happened and who is to blame," he wrote. "The truth, however, is that this is a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures. A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early to understand the cause."

Gulf Coast lawmakers welcomed BP's decision to open an escrow account for economic damage. "I certainly support anything that, No. 1, is going to get claims paid quickly and not just eventually and, No. 2, that ensures that there is some independent arbiter of what is a valid claim, not just BP," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in an interview in the Capitol.

Democratic lawmakers, however, said they would press ahead with legislation to remove a $75-million cap on the industry’s liability for economic damages from a spill.

During another congressional hearing on the spill Wednesday, Darryl Willis, a BP vice president, reported that the company has paid out 18,900 claims totaling $71 million. More than 54,000 claims have been filed. Hayward gives a different figure in his written testimony, saying that BP has paid out more than $90 million on more than 56,000 claims that he says have been submitted.

Meanwhile, other legislators met behind closed doors with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to urge him to lift a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling. Asked if he felt any better about prospects for restarting oil exploration, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) said simply, "No."

-- Richard Simon, from Washington

 
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