WASHINGTON — In an atmosphere of high tension, a House panel has opened Congress' first hearing with BP CEO Tony Hayward answering questions about the catastrophic Gulf Coast oil spill.
(Watch the hearngs live here)
Hayward, sitting by himself at the witness table, is expected to be interrogated sharply by lawmakers about BP's preparedness for such a massive spill and its failure to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf.
Lawmakers also want assurances that BP will compensate Gulf coast residents and businesses for oil spill damage.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A day after agreeing to a $20 billion victims' compensation fund, BP's chief executive is ready to tell Congress that he was "personally devastated" by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and understands the anger that Americans feel toward him and his company.
(Watch video of a heckler who disrupted the hearing here)
CEO Tony Hayward's contrition isn't likely to save him from a bruising Thursday on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are preparing to channel constituent outrage over the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history. Hayward, the panel's single witness, was surrounded by a flock of photographers as he entered the committee room and chatted with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Earlier, a dozen Capitol police officers gathered outside the hearing room and a line of spectators snaked down the hallway.
In prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press, Hayward said the explosion and sinking of the BP-operated rig "never should have happened — and I am deeply sorry that they did."
Newly disclosed documents obtained by the AP show that after the Deepwater Horizon sank, BP made a worst-case estimate of 2.5 million gallons a day flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. That figure is far higher than the company had said publicly until this week, when the government released its own worst-case estimate of about that amount.
The undated estimate by BP, apparently made sometime last month, reflected the actual situation as it was understood by BP at the time, said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, obtained the documents as part of an investigation into the oil spill and its aftermath.
Grassley said it was not clear when exactly BP made the calculation. "Certainly Americans have a right to know that BP made these estimates, the date these estimates were determined and why they were not disclosed at that time," he said Wednesday.
In a letter to BP America President Lamar McKay, Grassley asked BP to explain when it calculated a worst-case scenario of 2.5 million gallons a day and to provide documents justifying the figure.
In the course of the crisis in the Gulf, Hayward has irritated some with comments like "I'd like my life back." He strikes a more deferential tone in remarks prepared for the congressional hearing.
"To be sure, neither I nor the company is perfect," he said. "But we are unwavering in our commitment to fulfill all our responsibilities." He said the company has spent nearly $1.5 billion so far and won't stop spending until the job is done.
Hayward was to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which is looking into the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and unleashed a flood of oil that has yet to be stopped. He called it "a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures."
It's unlikely, however, that lawmakers — especially in an election year — will adopt President Barack Obama's more conciliatory tone toward BP. After accusing the company a day earlier of "recklessness," Obama and top advisers met Wednesday with BP officials, including Hayward and board chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. After the meeting, Obama announced BP concessions to pay a $20 billion fund. He said BP was "a strong and viable company," and its stock price rebounded.
(Watch video of Svanberg's embarrassing "apology" to the public here)
Still, in perhaps a pointed snub, Obama on Wednesday described a "constructive meeting" with Svanberg but didn't mention Hayward. Last week, the president said he would have fired Hayward for comments such as when Hayward said he wanted his life back.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, and the full committee chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, wrote Hayward this week to expect questions on documents showing company decisions before the explosion "that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense."
Ahead of the session, Stupak said of Hayward's appearance, "I expect him to be sliced and diced."
Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.