Facing Congressional Wrath, BP Chief Apologizes for Oil Disaster

In a congressional hearing Thursday that some have described as a public execution, BP chief executive Tony Hayward told Congress that he is "deeply sorry" for the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hayward's testimony came after members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee took turns in a long-awaited public flogging intended to capture the outrage of the nation.

The panel is investigating the explosion that killed 11 workers and unleashed a flood of oil that has yet to be stemmed.

As Hayward began his testimony, a woman identified as Diane Wilson, who appeared to have oil smeared on her face and clothes, shouted from the back of the room: "You need to be charged with a crime."

She was grabbed by Capitol police and taken from the room.

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Moments later, Hayward began his remarks, saying that the Gulf oil spill "never should have happened" and that he regretted the impact the spill has had on the environment and the people of the Gulf Coast.

Before Hayward's testimony, lawmakers accused him of being oblivious to the risks of the company's deep-water operations.

Some of the sharpest criticism came from Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

"We are not small people. But we wish to get our lives back," he told Hayward. "I'm sure you'll get your life back, and with a golden parachute to England."

It was a reference to Hayward's much-criticized earlier remark that some day he hoped to get "my life back" and to comments on the White House driveway on Wednesday by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg that "we care about the small people" of the Gulf Coast.

Hayward sipped a beverage and jotted notes as one lawmaker after another scorched him.

Early on, attention shifted away from Hayward as lawmakers traded barbs over the agreement President Obama announced on Wednesday with BP for the establishment of a $20 billion relief fund.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, accused the White House of a "$20 billion shakedown" of BP by requiring the company to establish the huge fund to compensate those hurt by the oil spill.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House" on Wednesday, Barton said.

But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., fired back that the fund is "not a shakedown."

"Rather, it was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country -- right now, the residents of the Gulf," he said. "It's BP's spill, but it's America's ocean and it's American citizens who are the ones being harmed."

Hayward expects to tell Congress he is "personally devastated" by the Gulf drilling rig explosion and oil spill and understands the anger Americans feel toward him and his company.

The explosion and sinking of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig "never should have happened -- and I am deeply sorry that they did," he said in testimony to be delivered to a House panel Thursday. "My sadness has only grown as the disaster continues."'

"To be sure, neither I nor the company is perfect," Hayward said. "But we are unwavering in our commitment to fulfill all our responsibilities." He said the British-based company has spent nearly $1.5 billion since the April 20 explosion, and won't stop until the job is done.

Hayward also called the explosion "a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures."

A group of protesters milled in the hallway outside the hearing room, including Diane Wilson, 61, a fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas, near the Gulf Coast. Wilson, appearing with a black-stained hand, said she wanted to send a message: "Hayward should go to jail."

She was joined by Ann Wright, 63, of Honolulu, Hawaii, who wore a BP hardhat, overalls and sunglasses adorned with dollar signs.

"BP doesn't really care about this," she said, pulling out an oil-stained rubber ducky.

Thursday was Hayward's inaugural appearance since the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Hayward has said he's got thick enough skin to handle the verbal assaults.

"I'm so far unscathed," he told analysts in a recent conference call, referring to the general criticism he's received. "No one has actually physically harmed me. They've thrown some words at me. But I'm a Brit, so sticks and stones can hurt your bones but words never break them, or whatever the expression is."

The BP CEO follows a long list of corporate faces used as congressional punching bags. Just this year, executives from Goldman Sachs spent nine hours trying to fend off accusations from senators that they bilked investors, and Toyota President Akio Toyoda personally and repeatedly apologized for deadly defects in his company's cars, only to have angry lawmakers forcefully respond that was hardly sufficient.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.