Protesters and angry lawmakers greeted top executives of companies involved with the Gulf of Mexico's massive oil spill at a U.S. congressional hearing in which the company leaders were poised to blame each other for the unfolding environmental disaster.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman opened the hearing saying that senators were likely to hear that the oil rig explosion and oil spill were due to a "cascade of errors."
Lamar McKay, president of BP America Inc, Steven Newman, president of Transocean Ltd, and Tim Probert, a senior executive of Halliburton Co, will face intense questions before two Senate committees.
Based on their written testimonies to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and to a later hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, the executives will blame each others' companies for last month's rig explosion and for the failure to control the oil slick threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Arriving for the hearing, the executives were met by protesters holding signs saying "Boycott BP" and "BP Kills," while six young women wore T-shirts with the words, "Energy shouldn't cost lives." Black tears were inked onto their faces. It is the first public inquiry into the oil spill.
About 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away, National Guard troops spread across the Louisiana coastline preparing to battle the oil that was approaching from the Gulf of Mexico. At least 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres) of crude per day continue to gush out of an underwater well that ruptured on April 20 when a BP-leased oil rig exploded and sank.
The hearings, which are expected to continue in coming weeks, could lead to new legislation on drilling practices or help lay the groundwork for additional regulation by the Obama administration.
The companies face intense political pressure in the aftermath of the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and sank Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig as it was finishing a well for BP.
The executives in their testimonies did not offer recommendations on how to protect workers from such explosions in the future or how to better prevent and control oil spills in the Gulf's very deep waters.
U.S. President Barack Obama met on Monday with Cabinet members responding to the oil spill, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The White House said it was deciding on its next steps and working to ensure all is being done to contain the slick and mitigate the environmental impact.
Halliburton joins BP and Transocean because it provided a variety of services on the rig and was involved in cementing the well to stabilize its walls and plug it.
Transocean's prepared testimony for Tuesday's hearings pins the explosion on the failure of this cementing or casing to plug the underwater well.
"The one thing we know with certainty is that ... there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing or both," according to Newman's prepared remarks.
Transocean's Newman also said the rig blew three days after the drilling was completed and the well had been sealed with cement. "It is also clear that the drill crew had very little (if any) time to react," Newman said. "The explosions were almost instantaneous."
With attempts to contain the oil spill unsuccessful so far, some lawmakers have questioned the adequacy of the companies' response to the accident.
David Nagel, executive vice president for BP America, on Monday defended his company's response to the accident.
"In terms of the spill response: that was mobilized right away," Nagel told reporters at a press briefing in Washington.
He said the failure of Transocean's blowout preventer is what "turned this incident into a really tragic situation."
"This was the last step in a series of safety steps to control the situation ... and it was expected to work," Nagel said.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced legislation that would raise to $10 billion the amount of money BP would be responsible to dole out for economic losses caused by the spill.
The oil spill casts further uncertainty on the fate of the Senate compromise climate bill set to be released this week, already struggling to muster Republican support.
Some coastal state Democrats have threatened to oppose the legislation, which is expected to include measures promoting offshore drilling in new areas.
The oil company executives will return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when they will testify about the oil spill before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
ReutersLast Mod: 12 Mayıs 2010, 08:21