WASHINGTON (CN) – BP CEO Tony Hayward said Thursday that he was “deeply sorry” for the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico, but told members of a House subcommittee that he was “simply not involved in the decision-making process” leading up to the April 20 rig explosion. “You’re a CEO,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. “You have a Ph.D. You’ve been director of explorations and operations. You know what’s going on.” By the end of the day Friday, BP announced that Howard would step away from the daily cleanup efforts.
Hayward maintained that he has kept the promise he made when he became CEO of BP in 2007 to focus “like a laser” on safety.
“It is the first word I utter every time I talk to an audience in BP,” Hayward said. “I set the tone from the top by saying very clearly that safe and reliable operations were our top priority,” he said, citing billions of dollars invested in safety measures since he took over as company head.
Committee members appeared to dismiss Hayward’s assurances.
“BP’s corporate complacency is astonishing,” said committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. He said that in the 30,000 pages of documents that he and his staff sifted through in preparation for the hearing, “there is not a single email or document that shows you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.”
The committee listed a slew of risky decisions made about the failed Macondo well that initiated the oil spill that they said suggested BP opted for cost-saving measures over safety.
Members honed in on BP’s decision to lay a single long string of casing into the well instead of using a liner and tieback system, which would have provided added barriers against the release of hydrocarbons during the cementing process. An internal email from mid-April said it was “unlikely to be a successful cement job.” BP went ahead with it anyway.
“I wasn’t involved in any of that decision making,” Hayward said, adding that the design had been approved by the U.S. Minerals Management Service. “It’s not an unusual well design in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
Waxman scoffed, saying his research showed that the design was only used 2 percent to 10 percent of the time in the region.
“BP knowingly risked well failure to save a few million dollars,” he said.
Hayward testified that the company saved between $7 million and $10 million by going with the single casing string. BP also installed six centralizers in the well, instead of the 21 that Halliburton, BP’s cementing contractor, recommended.
Halliburton warned that the well could have a “severe gas flow problem” if BP lowered the full string of new casing without installing more centralizers. BP ignored the warning. One official wrote, “It will probably be fine.”
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., asked about BP’s decision to not fully circulate the drilling mud at the bottom of the well before cementing, which would help it test for gas in the mud.
“Can you say under oath that the decision to not fully circulate mud was not made to save time and money?” Dingell asked.
“I can’t answer that question because I wasn’t there,” Hayward said. Stupak, the subcommittee chair, shook his head.
“There is nothing that I have seen that suggests that anyone put costs ahead of safety,” Hayward said. “If there is, I will take action.”
Hayward said BP was studying seven areas of possible failure in the Macondo well: cementing, casing, pressure measurement, well control procedures and three failures of the blowout preventer.
“It’s too early to reach a conclusion,” the CEO said. “I’m not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident.”
Lawmakers said he should be prepared, considering they gave him an extra week to prepare for the hearing because he requested it.
“I believe we should wait for the results of the investigations before we draw any conclusions,” Hayward said.
Hayward repeatedly declined to answer lawmakers’ questions by claiming that he was no expert. “I’m not a cement engineer,” he told one lawmaker. “I’m not a drilling engineer,” he told another.
“Are you prepared to concede that there are plumes?” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., asked.
“There are concentrations of about 0.5 parts per million of oil in the water,” Hayward said.
“You do not call that a plume?” Markey asked.
“I’m not an oceangraphic scientist,” Hayward said.
“Your testimony continues to be at odds with every independent scientist,” Markey said.
Stupak, who pleaded with Hayward to be “less evasive” when the hearing reconvened after a break for voting, asked, “Should the CEO be held liable?”
Hayward skirted the question. “There is no doubt that I have focused on safe, reliable operations,” he said.
“Do you think you will be BP CEO much longer?” Stupak asked.
“At the moment I am focused on the response,” Hayward said.