Published: May 11, 2010 5:33 PM EDT

WASHINGTON  - The chairman of a key Senate committee says failures that led to the massive Gulf oil spill need to be closely examined so new safety measures can be imposed.

New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman opened the first congressional hearings Tuesday into the accident. Scheduled to testify are executives of companies involved, including BP, which operated the drilling rig. Bingaman said it's not enough "to label this catastrophic failure an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel's ranking Republican, said it is essential to determine if the rig operators followed regulations and the law. But she said the accident should not interfere in continued offshore oil development.