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BP's Hayward Defends Safety Record at Hearing

Outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward defended his company's safety record Wednesday in the face of questions from British lawmakers about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, months after he offered few explanations for the accident at a testy hearing in Washington.

BP CEO Tony Hayward
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BP CEO Tony Hayward

Hayward gave evidence to a British parliamentary committee studying the fallout of the spill and the future of deepwater drilling.

The head of the committee eschewed the confrontational tone adopted by U.S. legislators, but gently pressed Hayward and BP's head of safety Mark Bly — author of the company's internal report into the spill — for specifics on the mistakes that contributed to the accident.

Committee chair Tim Yeo said that "three years ago, you were quoted as saying you were going to 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.

Hayward insisted that BP's safety record is "better than the industry average" and said no corners had been cut in the interest of saving money.

Hayward, who will be replaced by chief executive Bob Dudley, an American, on Oct. 1, endured an onslaught of criticism when he appeared before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in June. He insisted he had little knowledge of decisions that contributed to the explosion at the Macondo well on April 20, which killed 11 workers and triggered the massive oil spill.

Hayward repeatedly told the U.S. committee he could not provide detailed explanations. "I'm not stonewalling. I simply was not involved in the decision-making process," he said.

Before the session, Yeo said his panel would be less aggressive, but would seek answers.

"We would like him to be forthcoming, but we recognize there are some constraints — some legal constraints — that he faces," said Yeo, a former environment minister.

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 deep water drilling.

Both Transocean and BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon platform mining 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.

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. Citing inspection records obtained under Britain's Freedom of Information Act, it revealed BP had not complied with rules on training for offshore operators and had failed to conduct adequate oil spill exercises.

Yeo said his panel would question Hayward on the lack of training for offshore workers.

"My hope is that we can extract the lessons that need to be learned for the future of deep water drilling in the U.K.," he said.

The U.K. government has increased the number of rig inspectors there following the Gulf disaster from six to nine, as part of a promise to double the 69 inspections they carried out last year. But environmentalists — noting a government agency report last month that revealed a spike in accidental leaks and serious injuries to workers on offshore platforms — say a moratorium on drilling is needed.

The British committee has previously taken 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.

BP shares closed sharply lower in London trading and were lower in New York trading.

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