Eyes as much on the November election as on the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. (7th article on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy) Fr. Seán McDonagh,

With their eyes as much on the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, the U.S. many members of Congress also began to be quite vocal about the ecological disaster and how to hold ‘big’ accountable. In early June, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, met with the chairperson of seven committees in order to coordinate their to ‘big oil.’  She promised to bring legislation to the House by mid-August designed to address the causes and consequences of oil drilling disasters. [1]

On June 17th 2010, Tony Hayward faced a grilling from members of the House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce.  In the days before the Hayward’s appearance, the media began to present the event in terms of an OK Corral shoot-out between the congress men and women and Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, who at that point was the most hated man in the U.S. The encounter did not live up to its bidding, principally because Hayward was coached by his legal and media team and gave very little away.  Hayward’s ploy to begin with a contrite statement about how he was personally “devastated” by the loss of life was brushed aside by the committee. [2]

But despite numerous robust attempts to get Hayward to answers to specific questions, he gave away very little information.  The chair of the energy and commerce committee, Henry Waxman  prefaced his question to Hayward by saying, “It appears to me (him) that BP knowingly risked well failure to save a few million  dollars. Don’t feel any responsibility for those decisions?”[3] Hayward’s response was evasive. While admitting that, “I feel a great deal of responsibility for the accident,” he went on to state that, “ I am not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such times as this investigation is complete.” On being pressed for a clearer answer,  he replied, “ I simply was not involved in the decision-making process,” and, “ I haven’t drawn conclusions.”

Some members concentrated on the problems with the design of the Macondo well. Committee  member Bart Stupak wanted to know whether at BP cut corners to save money and time, Hayward claimed that, since he because CEO in 2007, safety was his top priority. This claim was treated with derision. Waxman said that after reviewing 30,000 pages of documents from BP, “we could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks” (at the Macondo oil well).  Hayward claimed that he had no direct involvement with the well and gave the familiar reply, “ I was not involved in the decision so it’s impossible for me to answer the questions.”[4]

Other committee members focused on the fact that BP had overruled the subcontractors, including Halliburton in terms of the  design of the well. These companies wanted a much more cautious design with more equipment to keep the drill pipe in place. Hayward refused to accept that the “long string” technology which BP opted for was dictated by cost alone or that the technology was inherently unsafe. It went on and on with Hayward conceding little.

There was comic moment when the Republic congressman from Texas, Joe L. Barton, true to his libertarian values of small government, apologised to Tony Hayward for what he called the $20 billion “shakedown” which President inflicted on BP to cover the costs of the clean-up and job losses in the Gulf States. What followed had a farcical   Laurel and Hardy ring to it, except for the fact that the issues are so serious. Barton was summoned by the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner and the Republican whip Eric Cantor and was told “apologize immediately or he would lose his spot immediately.” [5] That evening Mr. Barton apologized for “using the term ‘shakedown’” to describe the $20 billion escrow account which  BP had pledged to the President the previous day. He also retracted his apology to BP saying that the company should “bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th and fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt.”[6]

[1] Andrew Clark, “Congress turns up pressure on BP as US anger grows,” The Guardian, June 10th 2010, page 6.

[2] Suzanne Goldenberg, “ ‘I don’t recall’: stonewalling BP chief leaves Congress inflamed,” The Guardian, June 18th 2010, pages 6 and 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ibid

[5] Jackie Calmes, “Republican, Under Pressure, Backpedals From Apology to BP,” New York Times, June 17th 2010. www.nytimes.com June 17th 2010. (downloaded on June 18th 2010).

[6] Ibid.


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