Image: Representatives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton sit at table during hearing
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
Representatives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton answer questions before the presidential commission on the Gulf oil spill on Monday. The three companies on Tuesday drew the harshest words yet from the panel. staff and news service reports
updated 11/9/2010 12:16:15 PM ET 2010-11-09T17:16:15

The Republican co-chair of the presidential panel studying the causes of the Gulf oil spill lashed out at BP and its contractors on Tuesday, calling them "laggards" on safety who are "in need of top-to-bottom reform." Experts, meanwhile, questioned several BP decisions made just before the April 20 blowout.

"Each company is responsible for one or more egregiously bad decision," Bill Reilly said in opening comments on the final day of the commission's last hearing before it issues a final report in January. The companies he was referring to are BP, which owned the well; Halliburton, which performed critical cement work on the well; and Transocean, which owned the rig used to drill the well.

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BP, in particular, he noted, "has been notoriously challenged on matters of process safety."

The harshest words yet from the commission followed comments by former BP chief Tony Hayward acknowledging that the company was unprepared for the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In an interview with the BBC, Hayward said company's contingency plans were inadequate and "we were making it up day to day."

Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency chief under during the George H.W. Bush administration, said Monday's session of staff reports "uncovered a suite of bad decisions: failed cement tests, premature removal of muds underbalancing the well, a negative pressure test that failed but was adjudged a success, apparent inattention, distraction or misreading of a key indicator that gas was rising toward the rig."

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Both Reilly and fellow co-chair Bob Graham sought to clarify comments made Monday by the commission's chief counsel that investigators did not find any evidence that the companies  cut corners on safety to save money.

They said that does not mean that the three companies placed enough emphasis on safety.

"The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety ... leaders did not take risks seriously enough, didn't identify risks that proved to be fatal," said Graham, a Democrat and former U.S. senator from Florida.

"There were a series of actions which are difficult to explain in this environment," Graham added. "To just select one, the fact that there were three different temporary abandonment plans adopted in the week before" the rig blast "is illustrative of the fact that the lack of consistent planning for safety."

Reilly noted that the investigators "didn’t rule out cost, just said they weren’t prepared to attribute mercenary motives to men who cannot speak for themselves because they are not alive. But the story they told is ghastly: one bad call after another. Whatever else we learned and saw yesterday is emphatically not a culture of safety on that rig. I referred to a culture of complacency and speaking for myself, all these companies we heard from displayed it."

Referring to BP, Halliburton and Transocean, Reilly added that "the evidence is they are in need of top-to-bottom reform. We are aware of what appeared to be a rush to completion at Macondo, and one must ask whether the drive came from that made people determine they couldn’t wait for sound cement, or the right centralizers. We know a safety culture must be led from the top, and permeate a company."

Reilly spoke before industry experts testified about their analysis of the practices aboard the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig. Federal regulators also testified Tuesday afternoon about potential changes to safety rules.

Experts questioned BP's use of a single plug in the process. Charlie Williams, a chief scientist with Shell Energy Resources Inc., said the company used a minimum of three plugs in its deepwater wells.

BP also chose to fill the well with seawater, rather than heavy drilling mud, leaving it vulnerable to an upsurge of oil and gas — a condition that is not allowed for exploratory wells drilled in other places, experts said. The company also chose not to use mechanical plugs, devices put inside the pipe that also can block oil and gas.

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Many of the decisions would have required additional time and materials, said Steve Lewis, an advanced drilling technology engineer with Seldovia Marine Services who reviewed BP's drilling plans, federal permits and communications on behalf of the commission.

"I know there was pressure on these people to get done and move on," Lewis said. "The apparent shuffling and scrambling was not really necessary."

The April 20 explosion aboard the rig killed 11 workers and kicked off the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The commission's chief engineer, Richard Sears, wrapped up the hearing by outlining seven managerial findings, including muddled lines of authority and a compounding cascade of small problems that ultimately caused 11 people to die and millions of gallons of oil to spill.

"This is something that built over hours if not days, weeks, months. The companies involved each had data. They were each responsible for operations, and if data had been shared differently and operations had been carried out differently, I believe this disaster could have been prevented," Sears said. "And for whatever didn't happen that way, and it's sad."

Story: Halliburton refuses to list gas drilling chemicals

Ex-BP CEO defends own actions
Hayward said BP was "not prepared to deal with the intensity of the media scrutiny" it faced as millions of barrels of oil poured into the ocean and washed up on shore.

Hayward left his post last month after taking much of the flak for BP's poor public handling of the disaster. Gaffes including his statement that "I want my life back" were ridiculed in the U.S. media and seized on by critics of BP.

Hayward said he was "pretty angry" at the personal vilification.

"If I had done a degree at RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) rather than a degree in geology, I may have done better, but I'm not certain it would've changed the outcome," he said.

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He defended his much-criticized decision to take part in a yacht race with his family at the height of the crisis, saying he had not seen his son for three months and had only been aboard for six hours.

"I'm not certain I'd do anything different," Hayward said.

Hayward said BP had found itself unable to borrow from international investors during the spill crisis, threatening its finances. He said that before a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in June, "the capital markets were effectively closed to BP."

Video: Hayward testifies in London last September

"We were not able to borrow in the capital markets, either short or medium term debt at all, " he said. "It was a classic financial crisis issue."

Hayward's successor, Bob Dudley, told the program that "these were frightening days" for BP.

"With a company the size of BP, its reputation, what it does — you almost can't quite believe how close you are" to financial disaster, he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Basics about the BP investigation

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
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