British Petroleum Chief Executive Tony Hayward said he was "devastated" and "deeply sorry" when testifying about the oil spill in the Gulf on Capitol Hill Thursday.
"The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon, and the resulting oil spill, never should have happened, and I'm deeply sorry that it did," Hayward said.
Angry lawmakers fired back with claims of "irresponsible" action by BP and accusations of "stone-walling."
As Hayward began his opening statement, a protester, doused in oil, shouted, "You need to be charged with a crime. You need to go to jail."
That protest was a brief distraction, only a prelude to charges and accusations that came from lawmakers.
"The American people have watched you make staggering claims that haven't just flown in the face of facts, they've completely contradicted substantial bodies of evidence," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said.
"BP cut corners, a few million here, and million there, and now the Gulf coast is paying the price," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said.
Hayward, contrite and apologetic, testified under oath that safety was the company's top concern.
"I've set the tone from the top by making it very clear to everyone at BP that safe, reliable operations are my number one priority," Hayward said.
Most of the questions and remarks were critical, but the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Joe Barton, appeared a little more sympathetic to BP executives, calling the company's $20 billion relief program a "slush fund."
"I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that private corporations can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shake down," Barton said.
Leading House Republican John Boehner distanced himself from those remarks, saying that he does not view it as a "slush fund."
Hayward said his company is doing everything it can to secure the well and contain the flow of oil which has leaked somewhere between 66 to 120 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, based on the government's daily spill rate.
The Obama administration's Gulf response point man Thad Allen says drilling on the relief well is ahead of schedule. But for the coastal residents and businesses, the relief can't come soon enough.