BP's Hayward Defends Safety Record

LONDON (AP) -- Outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward said Wednesday that he understood anger directed at the energy giant in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but insisted his company had a strong safety record and was not solely to blame for the disaster.

Testifying before a British parliamentary committee, Hayward acknowledged BP had failed both to stop the spill and to plan adequately to respond to an accident of that scale.

"I understand why people feel the way they do, and there is little doubt that the inability of BP, and the industry, to intervene to seal the leak ... was unacceptable," Hayward told the hearing at London's Parliament.

Hayward appeared relaxed and confident addressing lawmakers in his native Britain, unlike at a testy hearing before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in June, when he faced angry accusations that he was stonewalling.

He said the explosion at the Macondo well on April 20, which killed 11 workers and triggered the massive spill, was "devastating to me personally," and insisted that standards on safety and training would improve industry wide.

But he said it would be wrong to attach blame only to BP PLC.

"No single factor caused the accident, and multiple parties including BP, Haliburton and Transocean were involved," he said.

Hayward, who will be replaced Oct. 1 by Bob Dudley, an American, told Parliament's Energy and Climate Change Committee that the extent of the environmental impact of the spill is also unclear. "No one knows today the environmental impact of this," he said.

The British committee's chairman Tim Yeo -- a Conservative and former environment minister -- challenged Hayward about his claim on taking his post in 2007 that he would focus "laser-like on safety."

"On your watch as chief executive, in that three years, now we've had the biggest-ever oil spill in U.S. waters," said Yeo, a Conservative lawmaker.

Though the British panel largely eschewed the combative style of the U.S. committee, Hayward was repeatedly pressed on whether he believed the response in the U.S. toward BP had been unfair.

"There was an enormous amount of emotion and anger and it was very understandable," Hayward said, declining to criticize the reaction from the White House or American public.

Hayward said BP had and "entirely constructive relationship" with the White House during the crisis, and insisted the U.S. government had not influenced BP's decision to suspend dividend payments following the spill.

He said that decision had been taken by the company's board "in the interests of preserving the financial strength of BP and in the interests of shareholders."

The executive also denied that attempts to reduce costs may have worsened the disaster. "Safety is the first call on every dollar that BP invests," he said.

Hayward appeared alongside BP's head of safety, Mark Bly -- the author of an internal report on the spill. He rejected suggestions that deepwater drilling should end as a result of the accident.

"I do not think that is wise given the world's demands for oil and gas," he said.

Yeo's panel is considering whether additional regulation is needed in Britain, and whether the U.K. government was right not to follow President Barack Obama's lead in imposing a moratorium on new deepwater drilling.

Both Transocean and BP PLC, which operated the Deepwater Horizon platform drilling the Macondo well, have operations in the North Sea off the coast of the U.K., where there are 24 drilling rigs and 280 oil and gas installations.

Britain's government has increased the number of rig inspectors there following the Gulf disaster, but environmentalists say a moratorium on drilling is needed.

"We have a very strong track record in the North Sea. It is better than the industry average," said Hayward, who insisted deepwater extraction will be necessary to meet increasing demand for oil.

The Financial Times reported Wednesday that all but one of BP's North Sea installations examined by government inspectors last year were cited for failure to comply with emergency regulations on oil spills. Quoting inspection records obtained under Britain's Freedom of Information Act, it revealed BP had not complied with rules on training and failed to conduct adequate oil spill exercises.

"BP remains very committed to oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and intends to make absolutely sure all the lessons, in all the dimensions we have discussed today, are fully applied to everything we do in the U.K.," Hayward told the panel.

The British committee has previously heard evidence from Transocean. It will issue a series of recommendations on safety, likely before the end of the year, but has no powers to compel Britain's Conservative-led government to accept its findings.
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