Tony Hayward Testimony: The Pitfalls of Political Theater

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward (C) leaves the Interior Department in Washington May 3, 2010. Energy giant BP Plc was under siege on Monday over the catastrophic oil spill from its ruptured Gulf of Mexico well, as its shares fell and the U.S. government pressed it to try to limit a major environmental disaster. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS DISASTER ENERGY ENVIRONMENT)

President Obama may have raised some disapproving eyebrows recently when he statedhis fact-finding activities regarding the Gulf oil spill were not political theater but rather an attempt to determine ?whose ass to kick.? However, few disapproving eyebrows are likely to be raised when Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich) deliver generous portions of both political theater and asskicking during their grilling ofBP CEO Tony Hayward tomorrow. Hayward is scheduled to testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee?s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations tomorrow, and the two congressmen sent the embattled CEO a letter on Monday indicating Hayward could be in for a rough time.

Of course, that in itself is not surprising. The BP chief has become a lightning rod for criticism, with various members of congress calling for his resignation and Obama saying he would have firedHayward in the wake of the oil spill. While most of the criticism of Hayward stems from BP?s response to the spill, the Waxman-Stupak letter suggests that most of the tough questions on Thursday will focus on decisions made by BP before the April 20 rig explosionthat may have increased the risk ofcatastrophic well failure.

According to the letter:

At this point in the investigation? the evidence before the Committee calls into question multiple decisions made by BP. Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time and expense. If this is what happened, BP?s carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig.

The letter details a number of actions BP took leading up to the spill that may have contributed to the disaster. Each of these shortcutsallegedly saved BP money and time, but ultimately increased the danger of well failure.Waxman and Stupak note that a number of these actions ran counter to industry standards, the advice of BP?s drilling partners, and in some cases the opinion of BP employees.

The charge that BP?s actions ran against industry standards may actually be a blessing for advocates of deepwater drilling. Already a number of republican congressmen are chafing against Obama?s six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, and supporters of deepwater drilling would like nothing more than to paint BP as a bad apple whose irresponsibility sullied an otherwise safe practice. If Waxman, Stupak, and other ranking democrats choose to hammer Hayward on BP?s unwillingness to follow best practices, they will score political points for coming down hard on the most hated man in America. However, they may miss a bigger opportunity to probethereal risks associated with he practice of deepwater drilling.

Picture: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (PicApp)

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