Executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton appeared at a Senate hearing Tuesday to testify about their companies' roles in the catastrophic oil spill still ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico. But each took pains to deflect blame for explosion that compromised the Deepwater Horizon oil well and the disastrous gush of oil from the well that has followed.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, blasted the testimony and said the executives were more concerned with avoiding legal responsibility for their companies than getting to the true cause for the disaster. "I can already see the liability chase," Menendez said. "It's like a Texas two-step."
Lamar McKay, the Chairman and president of BP America, which was leasing and operating the oil rig that exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, vowed that BP would spare no expense in its efforts to cut off the oil spewing into the Gulf and, later, in cleaning up the spill. But he stopped short of accepting full responsibility for the accident and called his company only "a responsible party." He would not call BP "the" responsible party.McKay also noted that of the 126 people aboard the Deep Water Horizon rig at the time of the explosion, seven were BP employees, and he pointed to Transocean, the owner of the oil rig, as another company that should share in the responsibility. In describing what said was a key failure that led to the spill, McKay pointed to a piece of Transocean's equipment, a blowout preventer
, which he said should have shut off oil the supply of oil to the surface when the explosion occurred. "Transocean's blowout preventer failed to operate," McKay said.
Steven Newman, the CEO of Transocean, spoke after McKay, and told senators that he deeply regretted the loss of 11 crew members, including nine Transocean employees. "I sit before you with a heavy heart," he said.
But in Newman's written testimony, which he did not read before the committee, he rejected BP's criticism of Transocean's equipment. "Over the past several days, some have suggested that the blowout preventers used on this project were the cause of the accident. That simply makes no sense," his testimony read. Newman said that his company's blowout preventers were tested twice in April and found both times to be functional. "We have no reason to believe that they were not operational," he wrote.
As for who was at fault, Newman pointed to a third company, Halliburton, which was contracted to provide construction materials and research at the well. "The one thing we know with certainty is that on the evening of April 20, there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both," Newman said of the materials that Halliburton supplied. "Therein lies the root cause of this occurrence; without a disastrous failure of one of those elements, the explosion could not have occurred."
On hand during the hearing to defend Halliburton was Tim Probert, the president of the company, who pointed the finger back at Transocean. "Halliburton, as a service provider to the well owner, is contractually bound to comply with the well owner's instructions on all matters relating to the performance of all work‐related activities," Probert said. He also pointed to Transocean's blowout preventer's failure as a key cause for the spill after the explosion. "Had the BOP functioned as expected, this may well never have occurred," he said.
Several senators observed the circular defense that the companies were making against each other.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Al.), the top Republican on the committee, called out the men for deflecting blame instead of openly discussing the root causes of the events that led to the oil spill.
"There's going to be plenty of time to figure out who is to blame and who is at fault," Murkowski said. "Mr. McKay blamed Transocean, Mr, Newman says it's not the BOP and we should be look to the casing and cementing, and then Mr. Probert takes it all back to the well owner....I would suggest to all three of you that we are all in this together."
Frustrated with the executive's answers, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) asked BP's McKay, "The question is, will BP pay?"
McKay said BP will pay for the damages caused by the spill, with a caveat. "We have been very clear-- we are going to pay all legitimate claims." When Landrieu asked what a "legitimate" claim would be, McKay said, "All substantiated claims- I can't define the term. Our intent is to be he fair, to be judicious and to be expeditious."