BP Plc Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward was denounced by U.S. lawmakers for stonewalling as he failed to answer questions about the causes of the oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I’m just amazed at this testimony,” Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, told Hayward at a hearing in Washington today, where the CEO said it was too early to reach conclusions. “You’re just kicking the can down the road.”
Hayward, 53, making his first appearance before Congress since the explosion of the company’s well on April 20, was blasted by Waxman for being unprepared to answer questions submitted to him in advance by a House panel. Hayward said repeatedly he wasn’t involved in any decision-making about the well’s operation.
“I expect you to cooperate with us,” Waxman, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said. “Are you failing to cooperate with other investigations as well? Because they’re going to have a hard time reaching conclusions if you stonewall them.”
Hayward declined to answer a volley of questions about actions on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the days before the explosion, citing pending investigations and saying he wasn’t personally involved in judgments made in drilling the well.
‘I’m Not Stonewalling’
“I’m not stonewalling,” Hayward said. “I simply wasn’t involved with the decision-making.”
Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, also expressed concern that Hayward wasn’t answering questions from the panel.
“There was after all BP executives who were on that rig, BP executives who ultimately could have made the call to stop operations when things became unsafe, and ultimately you are the person at the top and you are responsible,” Burgess said. He said federal regulators also should have been called before the panel for questioning.
Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, told Hayward that committee members were frustrated that he was providing “little substance.”
“I hope you will be more forthcoming,” said Stupak, who heads the subcommittee that held the hearing.
The questions submitted to Hayward by Waxman and Stupak in a letter this week concerned decisions such as the use of a less-robust well design, failure to anchor the well’s casing using a process recommended under industry practices and cutting short procedures to ensure cementing was sound.
Since the spill began, BP has “made changes with respect to the testing and evaluation of blowout preventers,” Hayward said. The device, intended to cut off a leak, failed at the Macondo well, which continues to gush as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day.
BP also made changes to ensure that “people likely to deal with well control are fully up-to-date and validated,” he said.
Hayward said he “had no prior knowledge of the drilling of this well,” and “I wasn’t part of the decision-making process on this well. I am not a cement engineer.”
BP agreed yesterday in a meeting with President Barack Obama to establish a $20 billion fund to pay damages from the spill, and to temporarily suspend dividends as Gulf residents and businesses file claims.
BP’s American depositary receipts, which traded for as much as $32.46 before the hearing, fell after the questioning of Hayward began to as low as $31.25. They traded at $31.42, down 1.4 percent, at 2:23 p.m. New York time.