By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Once the object of ridicule and focus of outrage after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP former chief executive Tony Hayward made a cameo Wednesday at the trial over the disaster, briefly showing up on a videotape in what may be his only appearance in the courtroom.
Hayward, who famously said "I'd like my life back" at the height of the spill, isn't expected to take the witness stand in the high-stakes trial to determine how much more BP and its partners should pay for the spill. While Hayward testified before Congress and gave a videotaped deposition for this trial, his role may be limited here by his lack of direct knowledge of the drilling operations on the Deepwater Horizon.
Still, attorneys for the U.S. government and Gulf Coast residents and businesses showed a 20-minute snippet of his deposition, projecting the video on a large white screen in the courtroom. The attorneys have said the London-based company bears most of the blame for the spill and they accused the company of putting profits ahead of safety by cutting corners on a project that was over budget and behind schedule.
"I believe that the role of leaders is very important in shaping the culture of an organization," Hayward said in the videotape.
He also said cost-cutting measures in the years before the 2010 spill did not have an effect on drilling operations, comments that differed from excerpts of a videotaped deposition from Kevin Lacy, who served as BP's senior vice president for drilling operations in the Gulf before resigning several months before the spill.
Lacy said BP slashed between $250 million and $300 million from its Gulf drilling budget from 2008 to 2009 while at the same time its production rose by more than 50 percent.
"I was never given a directive to cut corners or deliver something not safely, but there was tremendous pressure on costs," Lacy said.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over the trial designed to identify the causes of BP's Macondo well blowout and assign percentages of fault to the companies involved. If BP is found guilty of gross negligence, it could be on the hook for nearly $18 billion.
The rig explosion killed 11 oil rig workers and the busted well dumped an estimated 172 millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Barbier listened to the videotape as a lawyer asked Hayward about a speech he gave just five days before the blowout.
Hayward spoke about the company's "drive to increase efficiency and reduce costs."
"The context was I'd spent time talking about safe, reliable operations before I talked about any of this," Hayward said.
Hayward also drew a distinction between reducing "corporate overhead" and cutting "corporate operating costs."
While the busted well spewed oil into the Gulf, Hayward was photographed at a yacht race and also accused of directing his employees to downplay the disaster to keep stock prices afloat.
Hayward told Congress he was personally devastated by the spill and that it never should have happened. He stepped down as CEO and later left the company.
Rig owner Transocean Ltd. and cement contractor Halliburton also are defendants and their lawyers have tried to minimize their roles in the disaster. BP attorneys have said the drilling was a team effort and that all of the companies share responsibility for the disaster.
Earlier Wednesday, Transocean attorney Kerry Miller questioned Lamar McKay, who was president of BP America at the time of the disaster. McKay said he personally did not know of any reason to be critical of Transocean or its crew members on the rig and acknowledged that BP still leases three rigs from Transocean operating in the Gulf.
He agreed that the Deepwater Horizon was a "very safe operating rig."
"Up until the accident, yes," McKay said.
McKay also said BP has accepted "part of the responsibility" for causing the blowout of its Macondo well.
"We have apologized for that," said McKay, now chief executive of BP's Upstream unit. "We have accepted responsibility for that in many ways."
BP pleaded guilty in January to 14 criminal counts, including 11 felony counts of manslaughter, and agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties to resolve a Justice Department probe. Transocean pleaded guilty earlier this month to one misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act and agreed to pay $400 million in criminal penalties.
Miller pointed out the differences between the companies' plea deals as he questioned McKay.
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