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BP’s U.S. Chief to Face Congressional Inquiry Over Gulf Spill

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc’s head of U.S. operations will be the first company official to testify before Congress on the explosion and sinking of a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico when he appears before two Senate panels next week.

Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America Inc., is scheduled to answer questions at a morning hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 11, according to the committee’s website. BP leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which exploded April 20 and sank two days later, triggering an oil spill that threatens Gulf coast states from Louisiana to Florida.

Later the same day, McKay will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is examining the environmental and economic impacts of the spill. Steven L. Newman, chief executive officer of Transocean Ltd., owner of the drilling rig, and Tim Probert, president of global business lines at Halliburton Co., which was in charge of cementing the well, will also appear at the hearings.

“Given the accident, I suspect the mood in Washington is to have regulators be more strict and more specific,” said David Pursell, a managing director at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. LLC in Houston. “It gets back to what was the cause of this thing. You can’t regulate out human error.”

A blaze that engulfed and destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off Louisiana caused the deaths of 11 crew members and oil leaks at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels a day. Today, BP was deploying to the seafloor a 40-foot-tall steel structure that could capture as much as 85 percent of the oil leaking from the well if it works as planned. The U.S. Coast Guard and BP have been skimming oil from the Gulf and burning portions of the spreading oil slick to reduce the amount that reaches shore.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is co-sponsor of legislation to raise the limit on damages awards from a spill to $10 billion from $75 million under the current law, which was passed in 1990. The cost to BP of cleaning up the spill isn’t affected by the cap.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at liebert@bloomberg.net.

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