BP's CEO Tony Hayward on the Hot Seat Over Gulf Oil Spill

embattled BP CEO Tony Hayward
embattled BP CEO Tony Hayward

By now it's an all-too-familiar ritual of American political life: Disgraced -- or just really disliked -- corporate executives are summoned to explain themselves before a U.S. congressional panel.

Starting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, BP (BP) CEO Tony Hayward had the pleasure of facing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for a hearing called "The Role of BP in the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill." Perhaps a better title would be "Tony Hayward's Role as National Punching Bag."

In an election year, expect heavy political grandstanding as lawmakers jockey to most vividly express the public outrage toward BP. Prominent conservative Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan predicted that Hayward would be "sliced and diced" by lawmakers seeking to "take his hide off."

On Tuesday one lawmaker suggested that BP executives commit ritual suicide, but seeing seppuku on C-Span is a long shot.

Nowhere to Hide

Hayward, of course, makes an easy target. This is the executive who infamously said he would "like his life back" and predicted that the "environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest."

Fifty-eight days after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others, the resulting spill has created the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Last week, President Obama said he would have fired Hayward after his remarks.

Unlike other congressional hearings where several executives appear at once on a panel, Hayward is testifying alone, so he'll have nowhere to run or hide. D.C. lawyer and Congress expert Stan Brand offered the Associated Pressthis advice for Hayward: "Put on your asbestos suit and get ready." Veteran lawmaker John Dingell (D-Mich.) predicted that Hayward will have "a very unpleasant afternoon."

"I Was Personally Devastated"

The 52-year-old Hayward is a 28-year BP veteran who has held a number of production and exploration roles within the company. He replaced the previous BP CEO, John Browne, on May 1, 2007. Hayward's Thursday appearance before the House committee is likely to be one of his worst days since assuming the corner office -- and he's had plenty of bad days since April 20. In his testimony, expect Hayward to strike an empathic tone -- or try to, anyway.

"When I learned that 11 men had lost their lives in the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, I was personally devastated," Hayward says in an advance transcript of his testimony.

"I want to speak directly to the people who live and work in the Gulf region: I know that this incident has profoundly impacted lives and caused turmoil, and I deeply regret that," Hayward says in the transcript. "Indeed, this is personal for us at BP. For decades, the people of the Gulf Coast states have extended their hospitality to us and to the companies like Arco and Amoco that are now part of BP. We have always strived to be a good neighbor."

But no amount of "I feel your pain" is likely to shield Hayward from lawmakers' wrath. As Washington lawyer Brand told the AP: "It's like being in the Gulag, with screaming, remonstrating members asking compound questions to which there are no answers."

Welcome to the hottest seat in the country, Mr. Hayward.