Oil executives ignored warning signs in the hours before the Deepwater rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last month, a congressional hearing heard on Wednesday.

In a second day of hearings, the U.S. House of Representatives' energy and commerce committee said documents and briefings suggested that BP, which owned the well; Transocean, which owned the rig; and Halliburton, which made the cement casing for the well, ignored tests in the hours before the 20 April explosion that indicated faulty safety equipment.

The committee also heard testimony from oil executives suggesting multiple failures in safety systems that should have stopped the oil flowing after the blowout.

The failures included a dead battery in the blowout preventer, suggestions of a breach in the well casing, and failure in the shear ram, a device of last resort that was supposed to cut through and seal the drill pipe in the event of a blowout.

“Already we have uncovered at least four significant problems with the blowout preventer used on the Deepwater Horizon drill rig,” said Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan who chairs the oversight subcommittee. The examination follows Senate hearings on Tuesday in which Senators criticised the companies for trying to blame one another.

While the committee accused the oil industry of failing to anticipate the dangers of offshore drilling, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled their energy and climate change bill, after eight months of careful courtship of industry and political opposition.

Senator Kerry said it was the best hope of energy reform. “Everyone knows this is Congress's last, best chance to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.” The passing of laws to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is seen as vital for a global deal to tackle climate change.But the American power act has no Republican backers after one of its co-authors, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, withdrew his support last month. ms. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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