Anna Fifield Live blog: BP’s Tony Hayward on Capitol Hill

Anna Fifield is the FT’s US political correspondent and has been covering the Washington end of the BP oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20. She blogged live from the hearing room.

12:52pm: The hearing was adjourned for another recess as lawmakers return to the House chamber to vote. it will resume at 2pm Washington time.

12:38pm: The hearing soon descended into angry arguing.

“When you became CEO three years ago, you said safety would be your top priority, that you would focus on it like a laser,” Mr Waxman told Mr Hayward. “Have you met that commitment that you made?”

Mr Hayward responded that BP had “made a lot of progress… major changes,” since he became chief executive and said he was “distraught” by the Gulf spill.

“It’s clear to me that you don’t want to answer our questions,” Mr Waxman said in one of many heated exchanges, voicing particular concern that Mr Hayward, who has worked at BP for 28 years, including as head of exploration, repeatedly said he did not have knowledge of specifics on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

“Are you failing to co-operate with other investigators as well,” asked Mr Waxman, accusing Mr Hayward of “stonewalling”. The chief executive denied the charge.

“You’re not taking responsibility, you’re just kicking the can down the road,” Mr Waxman responded.

12:18pm: Mr Stupak said BP’s documents showed the leadership managed its risk in the well, and asked Mr Hayward if they managed it properly.

Mr Hayward responded that safety was his paramount concern and that since becoming chief executive he had invested in the three components of safety: Plant, people, process.

BP’s investigation had showed that the cement casing, the integrity of the pressure around the well, well control procedures, and three areas around the well had been shown to be contributors to the explosion, he said.

Asked by Mr Stupak what changes had been made since April 20, Mr Hayward said there had been changes to well control procedures and that more changes would be made as the investigation continued.

Mr Stupak recounted BP’s miserable safety record over the last five years, and asked Mr Hayward if BP should be held accountable. Mr Hayward did not directly answer his questions, saying that changes had been made in the last three years since he took over. “We’ve made safe reliable operations the core of the company,” he said.

Mr Stupak asked Mr Hayward if he expected to remain chief executive of the company. “At the moment I’m focused on the response,” the CEO said.

12:16pm: Tony Hayward, accompanied by Capitol Hill police, has returned to the hearing room. Get ready for some intense questioning.

11:47am: Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has issued an angry statement on congressman Joe Barton’s apology to BP:

“What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction.  Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a ‘tragedy’, but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now.  Members from both parties should repudiate his comments.”

11:45am: Update on Diane Wilson, the screaming fisherwoman ejected from the room. She has been charged with disruption of Congress and resisting arrest.

11:32am: The committee has gone into recess for 30 minutes while lawmakers go to the House of Representatives to vote. This blog will resume at noon EST when the hearing continues with lawmakers posing questions to Mr Hayward. That’s when the fireworks should really begin.

11:25am: After the mayhem, Mr Hayward begins his opening statement, reading from a prepared statement similar from the document distributed on Wednesday night.

After expressing his sorrow for the spill, Mr Hayward referred to BP’s agreement after Wednesday’s decision to set aside $20bn in an escrow account to meet claims. “Now the American people can be confident that our word is good,” he said.

Mr Hayward told the committee:

“I know that only actions and results, not mere words, ultimately can give you the confidence you seek. I give my pledge, as the leader of BP, that we will not rest until we put this right. We are a strong company and no resources will be spared. We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event and emerge from it stronger, smarter and safer.”

11:22am: Tony Hayward has just taken an oath swearing to tell the truth in the hearing. As he starts speaking, Diane Wilson, the Gulf coast fisherwoman who spoke to reporters before the hearing, stood up in the back row. Holding up her black-painted palms – covered in tar and chocolate syrup – she starts screaming at Tony Hayward. “You need to be charged with a crime,” she shouts, as police try to contain her. There is commotion in the room as cameras crowd around her. She continues screaming as police drag her from the room.

Last week Ms Wilson poured a bottle of maple syrup – representing oil – over herself during a hearing to protest the spill. Then she was arrested by (sticky) police officers. No word on whether she has been charged today.

Mr Stupak tells the audience that although emotions are running high, the hearing must be run with proper decorum.

Read Anna’s opening post from the hearing room.