Dem senators needle BP over its record in wake of oil spill

Several Democratic senators needled the head of BP America over the company's safety record and response to a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee needled Lamar McKay, the president of BP America, and executives from other companies involved over an explosion on a drilling rig BP leased that exploded last month, triggering a massive spill that threatens shorelines in Gulf states.

"This sure fits, in my view, a pattern of serious safety and environmental problems at BP," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said at the hearing on Tuesday.

"What I see is a company not prepared to address a worse case scenario, but a company that is flailing around to try whatever they can think of next to deal with the worst case scenario," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the author of legislation to increase the liability BP might face from the spill to up to $10 billion dollars.

Democrats on the committee focused questions on just how much BP might pay as a result of the spill.

"We've been very clear and we are going to pay all legitimate claims," McKay said in response to questions. "The intent is to be fair, responsive, and expeditious. As to the $75 million you mentioned, we think we're going to exceed that, and it's obviously irrelevant."

But senators questioned what McKay meant by "legitimate claims" might mean, specifically whether it might extend beyond strict legal liability.

"If you're not found to be grossly negligent, is BP prepared to pay the full extent of real economic damages?" asked Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), whose home state of Louisiana has been harshly affected by the spill.

Executives from Transocean Limited, whose employees were contractors on the BP rig, and Halliburton, which supplied a number of services to the rig, also found themselves on the hot seat.

Steven Newman, the CEO of Transocean, and Tim Probert, the president of Global Business Lines and Chief Health, Safety and Environmental Officer for Halliburton, both vowed full cooperation with the investigations into the causes of the blast, and said they were working hard with BP to help clean up the spill.