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BP Unprepared for Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Former CEO Admits

Nov 9, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

The former CEO of BP PLC has admitted the oil giant was unprepared for a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. In an interview with the BBC, Tony Hayward said his company’s contingency plans were inadequate and “we were making it up day to day.”

The BP oil spill began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men on April 20. All attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the well on July 15. By that time roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest offshore oil disaster in US history. 

Hayward has been a frequent target of criticism since the spill, and his unfortunate habit of putting his foot in his mouth – “I want my life back” – angered many. In July, BP announced Hayward would be stepping down as CEO, effective October 1. He was be replaced by American Bob Dudley, who had been overseeing BP’s spill response.

In excerpts of his interview released by the BBC, Hayward expresses anger at the scorn levied against him. He tells the network he is not certain he would do anything different, and goes so far as to defend his decision to take part in a yacht race with his family at the height of the crisis.

Hayward also reveals that BP came close to financial disaster during the spill, as its credit sources evaporated. He said that before a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in June, “the capital markets were effectively closed to BP.”

In other news, investigators on a special presidential commission investigating the BP spill are saying that there is no evidence that BP took shortcuts aboard the rig to save money.

“To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety,” commission chief attorney Fred H. Bartlit Jr. said yesterday in a presentation before the commission.

However, according to The New York Times, Bartlit also told the commission a number of “critical questions about the accident remained in dispute, including the cause of the failure of the cement at the bottom of the well, why BP and its partners went ahead with trying to close in the well after it failed an important pressure test and why crew members failed for too long to recognize that oil and gas were gushing up the well bore.”

“The interesting question is why these experienced men out on that rig talked themselves into believing that this was a good test that indicated well integrity,” said Sean Grimsley, one of Bartlit’s deputies, according to the Times. “None of them wanted to die or jeopardize their safety. The question is why.”

Bartlit also said he could not reach any conclusions about the well’s blowout preventer because it is currently in the hands of federal agents as possible evidence in criminal and civil trials. According to the Times, the government has hired a Norwegian engineering firm to examine it and determine if and how it might have failed. Bartlit said he is awaiting the results of that study.

Finally, Bartlit said his probe had been handicapped by Congress’s refusal to grant the commission subpoena power. The commission does plan to ask Congress to reconsider granting the panel subpoena power, the Times said.

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