Congressman Bruce Braley this afternoon asked British Petroleum’s chief executive if he considers the $20 billion account B.P. has set aside to compensate oil spill victims a “slush fund.”
Tony Hayward, B.P.’s C.E.O., is testifying before the House Energy Committee. Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, is a member of the panel, as is a Texas congressman who apologized to Hayward early this morning for what he called a White House “shakedown” of B.P.
Braley asked Hayward a question: “Did you consider this compensation fund…to be a slush fund?”
Hayward said the fund is a “signal” of B.P.’s commitment to “do right.” Hayward added, when pressed again by Braley, that B.P. “certainly didn’t think it was a slush fund.” Braley also pressed Hayward about the allegation that the Obama Administration had “shaken down” by B.P.
“We speak the same language, but it’s not always the same language when we speak English in the United States and English in Great Britain so I can to make sure I’m clear on this,” Braley said. “Here in this country, the word shaken down means somebody in a position of disadvantage is forced to do something against their will. Is that how you viewed these negotiations at the White House yesterday?”
Hayward replied: “As I said, we came together to figure out a way of working together to resolve what is clearly a very, very serious situation.” Braley suggested the compensation was not only in the best interest of U.S. taxpayers, but also in B.P’s best interest “to get this problem solved” so the company can “move forward.”
Earlier, during Braley’s initial comments at the hearing, Braley told British Petroleum executives that the residents of the Gulf Coast “deserve answers” from the company.
“Mr. Hayward, you’re not going to get a lecture from me today, and you’re not going to get an apology, either,” Braley said. “We are here to get to the bottom of the decision-making process that BP followed, and I think, quite frankly, the people who live along the affected area of the Gulf Coast deserve those answers from you.”
Braley asked the B.P. executives to listen to comments from two women whose husbands died when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. In the video which was played during the hearing, one of the widows asked that B.P. and other companies that “ignore safety standards” face “harsh punishments.”
“These are now widows with small children to take care of and they are the symbols and the faces of this disaster,” Braley said. Braley said not only have those families suffered catastrophic losses, but the Gulf Coast economy has been devastated by what he called an “oil disaster.”
“And I use the word disaster specifically because I don’t think ‘spill’ quite captures the magnitude of what’s going on.” Braley said. According to Braley, the American people are “frustrated” with B.P. because the magnitude of the spill has been downplayed.
“We were first told that this was a thousand barrel per day release,” Braley said. “Then, about a week later, that was updated to a 5,000 barrels per day and at the end of May it was adjusted upward to 15,000 to 19,000 barrels per day, and then this week we were warned that it could be as high as 60,000 barrels per day. That works out to 2.5 million gallons a day, 17.5 million gallons per week, and over the length of this disaster, it could be up to the level of the largest release of oil in the North American continent in history.”
Later, Braley pressed the head of B.P. about its overall safety record.
(This story was updated at 2:46 p.m.)