the-blame-gamePredictable and cynical.

Two words used by the New York Times in its editorial today to describe the behaviour of Big Oil at a Senate hearing yesterday.

The three senior executives from BP, Halliburton and Transocean – predictably and cynically – tried to blame each other for the spill, to the point that the “hearings produced almost none of the answers needed”, according to the Times.

BP America chairman, Lamar McKay, blamed a malfunctioning blowout preventer installed by Transocean. In turn, Transocean’s boss, Steven Newman, said the problem may have been a mishandling of the cement installed by Halliburton. Tim Probert, a president of Halliburton, said they were only doing what BP told them to do.

It is usually politicians that try to wriggle out of responsibility. But this wriggling is being done by corporate executives due to a very simple reason: the lawsuits are stacking up and the blame game is trying to wriggle out of any legal responsibility, not only for the clean-up costs but also for compensation.

Senator John Barrosso said: “I hear one message and the message is don’t blame me. Shifting the blame game doesn’t get us very far.”

This attempt to avoid legal responsibility was called the “liability chase,” by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. “It’s like a bit of a Texas two step. Yes, we’re responsible, but BP says Transocean, Transocean says Halliburton.”

BP repeatedly avoided the question over liability: “Let me be really clear,” Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, told the hearing. “Liability, blame, fault — put it over here”. ie somewhere far away…

Lamar McKay also stopped short of accepting full responsibility for the accident and called his company only “a responsible party.” He would not call BP “the” responsible party.

Even the pro-drilling Alaskans got angry with the oil executives: Senator Murkowski summarized the finger-pointings and told the executives to stop it. “I would suggest to all three of you that we are all in this together,’’ she said.

“If this spill leads to a cutoff of offshore drilling,” she said, “not only will BP not be out there, but the Transoceans won’t be out there to drill the rigs and the Halliburtons won’t be out there cementing.’’

Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey and lead sponsor of a bill to raise the cap on damages that oil companies are liable for from $75m to $10bn, compared the BP well and Transocean rig to the Titanic.

“We were told that the Titanic was so technologically advanced that it couldn’t sink, and we were told that this well was so technologically advanced that it couldn’t spill,” Mr Menendez said. “Unfortunately both of these technological marvels ended in tragedy.”

But it’s a tragedy that Big Oil  – and BP in particular – does not want to take responsibility for…

BP should be renamed BABU – Blame Anyone But Us