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Oil company execs question BP's design, drill strategy

WASHINGTON - Top executives from four major oil companies questioned the design and drilling strategy Tuesday of BP's ill-fated Deepwater Horizon well and told lawmakers they would have drilled it differently.

But the executives, facing sharp questions at a House hearing, conceded that the entire industry was not well-equipped to deal with a major blowout a mile under water and that the emphasis in well-drilling must be on preventing such a disastrous accident in the first place.

The oil company leaders said they expect tougher standards and requirements on drilling and more government involvement in assuring the rules are followed. They said they are reluctantly accepting a moratorium on deepwater drilling but hope the ban can be lifted as soon as possible.

The executives tried to distance themselves from BP, even as lawmakers said their own drilling plans and spill response blueprints were "virtually identical" to the ones used by BP.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) chastised the industry for "cookie cutter" response plans and drilling strategies. The other companies "are no better prepared to deal with a major oil spill than was BP," said Waxman, setting the tone for a tense hearing.

One lawmaker after another expressed frustration at BP's inability to stop oil gushing from its stricken well as the chief executives of ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell - as well as BPAmerica - sat shoulder to shoulder at the witness table.

ExxonMobil's Rex Tillerson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the emphasis must be on preventing blowouts in the first place "because when they happen, we're not very well equipped to deal with them."

The sharpest questions and comments were aimed at BP America president Lamar McKay.

Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said BP can't be trusted. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) told McKay he should resign.

McKay repeatedly said BP was ready to pay any legitimate claims from people or businesses harmed by the spill, but he said no decision has been made on whether the company would suspend its quarterly dividends, nor whether it would agree to set up an independent $20-billion liability fund as Obama has proposed.

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