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Oil Executives, Rig Workers Make Rounds on Capitol Hill

From the oil industry’s top lobbyist to a roustabout who worked on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig, those involved in the BP oil spill descended on Capitol Hill on Thursday as lawmakers sought to get a better handle on the environmental crisis.

It was a day of fast-paced events that included President Barack Obama’s announcing a six-month moratorium on new offshore oil-drilling permits, while BP said it was making progress in capping the leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Congressional committees, meanwhile, held a slew of hearings in which they heard not only from executives at BP and the American Petroleum Institute, but also from two workers on the rig and the father of a mud engineer killed during the explosion that triggered the spill.

Keith Jones, a trial lawyer from Baton Rouge, La., fought back tears as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee about his son Gordon, who was a contract worker on the rig.

Jones, who described his son as having a keen sense of humor and devotion to his young family, flashed photographs on large screens in the committee room of Gordon teaching his 2-year-old son how to swing a golf club.

“It’s the last golf lesson he will get from his dad,” said Jones, who came to the hearing with another son, Chris.

Jones told the committee that when Gordon’s wife, Michelle, tells her sons about their father, “she’s not going to show them a pay stub.”

But he also said that under current maritime law, the family will only be able to recover economic losses. But he asked the lawmakers to force the companies, including London-based BP and Swiss-based Transocean, the owner of the rig, to pay punitive damages as well.

“If you want these companies, one of which is based in Great Britain and another in Switzerland, to make every effort to make sure their employees don’t act as these did, putting American lives at risk, you must make certain that they are exposed to pain in the only place they can feel it — their bank accounts,” he said.

Personal Stories

Two workers who survived the explosion — Douglas Brown, a chief mechanic, and Stephen Stone, a roustabout — described their harrowing escape from the rig and the health effects they have suffered since.

Stone said he has had trouble sleeping, has experienced memory loss and had developed a nervous twitch in his eye.

He testified that soon after the incident, a Transocean representative met him at a Denny’s restaurant and offered him $5,000 for the loss of his possessions in return for signing a document that said he had not suffered injuries. Stone said he refused to sign the part about no injuries and instead hired a lawyer whose firm had dealt with the explosion at a BP plant in Texas in 2005.

“I never would have expected for my company, Transocean, to treat me like a criminal after I survived such a disaster by making me submit to a drug test, and then try to tempt or trick me into giving my legal rights by signing forms without a lawyer present,” he said at the hearing.

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