UPDATE: BP no-show for Miss. oil spill hearings

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers holding hearings about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were hoping to hear directly from BP executives to get a better idea about the scope of the problem.

They got a letter instead.

The company informed legislators that no BP representatives would be able to appear at the House committee hearings in Jackson, and suggested an alternate date.

House Speaker Billy McCoy said he considered the company’s action an insult.

“We are not holding these hearings to conduct a witch-hunt,” McCoy said in a statement Tuesday.

McCoy said lawmakers wanted to get BP’s version of how the disaster happened and what are the plans to control the massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lawmakers also wanted to discuss the extent of the damage and any possible long-term effect of the oil spill that occurred after the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April.

BP spokeswoman Marti Powers said many of the company’s executives were heading to Washington, D.C., for meetings there this week about the oil spill.

“We didn’t want to just send anyone to go speak to the Mississippi lawmakers. Out of respect, we wanted to make sure they talked to people who are in the know and can answer their questions,” Powers said.

Powers said BP offered to make those officials available at a later date.

Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, said he wanted to ask BP executives exactly how much oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico on a daily basis.

“Every day I hear a different figure from a different source, and there’s a lot of speculation out there. I would just like to get a straight answer,” Dedeaux said.

Dedeaux said it was important for the legislative branch to be involved in disaster recovery policy. He said that didn’t happen after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

“Everything was handled by the executive branch after Katrina,” he said.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour was among the state officials who spoke at the hearing that drew about two dozen spectators in the House gallery. Barbour said BP was responsible for covering all costs associated with the disaster. He said little oil has been found in state waters so far.

Barbour told lawmakers that the state has spent about $1.5 million in response to the spill, but all the money will be reimbursed. He said 6,000 National Guard troops have been mobilized, but only about 60 are used on a daily basis.

Barbour said he’s still pushing BP to send out more sentinel vessels to monitor Mississippi’s waters. On average about 300 vessels patrol the area in search of oil sheen, tar balls or other derivatives of the petroleum. Barbour said he’d like to see that number increase.

He said 1,173 local vessels have signed contracts with BP.

“If you pay them anyway, pay them to work,” Barbour said.

Barbour also said he disagrees with President Obama’s decision to extend a moratorium on new deep water drilling leases and suspending action on 33 deep water exploratory wells currently being drilled in the western Gulf of Mexico.

Barbour said those decisions could lead to job losses for some of the thousands of Mississippians who work offshore. He also said it could affect the nation’s energy security. Barbour said six months after those wells have been shut down, it’s likely the equipment that was used at the wells will be in place in countries, such as China, Brazil and Indonesia.

“They’re going to be gone,” Barbour said. “It’s very bad to America’s energy security.”

The Assocated Press