BP chief Hayward takes the fall for Gulf oil spill

25th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

BP chief executive Tony Hayward will quit within days, reports said Sunday, cutting short a 28-year-old career after becoming a lightning rod for anger over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

It was only three years ago that Hayward took over from his scandal-mired predecessor with the promise of a fresh start and a vow to forge a greener, safer future for the energy giant after a number of ecological disasters.

But while a PhD in geology and three decades of experience ensured Hayward knew BP's core business inside out, he appeared ill-equipped as the public face of the catastrophe that emerged off the Louisiana coast in April.

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, killing 11 workers and causing a massive oil spill that reached the shores of five US states.

Although Hayward swiftly set up shop in the region, where he apologised profusely and promised BP would stop at nothing to clean up the mess, a series of gaffes soon made him US public enemy number one.

The 53-year-old was forced to apologise early on for a "hurtful and thoughtless" remark about the toll the spill was taking on him.

"There's no one who wants this to be over more than I do, I want my life back," he had said, to the outrage of Gulf coast residents who were watching their livelihoods disappear under a black slick.

Hayward also had to row back from claims that the environmental impact of the spill would be "very, very modest" -- it is now considered the worst environmental crisis in US history.

He was taken to task by the White House for sailing his yacht off the Isle of Wight, a favoured past-time he shares with his former BP geologist wife and their two children, as the waters of the Gulf choked with oil.

And when he was summoned to appear at a Congressional hearing last month to explain the disaster, lawmakers accused him of being obstructive.

A temporary cap has stopped the leaking oil, and some commentators have suggested that now the crisis has calmed down, it is time for Hayward to go.

The BBC reported a senior BP source as saying Hayward could quit as soon as Monday, when the BP board is expected to meet ahead of the publication of second-quarter results Tuesday. Other media also predicted he would resign.

His likely successor is Bob Dudley, a senior BP manager in the United States who took over the management of the oil spill last month.

Born in southern England on May 21, 1957, Hayward received his PhD in Scotland and joined BP as a geologist on a North Sea rig in 1982.

He rose through the ranks, working in Europe, Asia and South America, before becoming chief treasurer, then head of exploration and production, and finally group chief executive in 2007.

He took over from John Browne, considered one of the greatest businessmen of his generation but ousted after losing a legal battle to conceal his homosexuality.

Browne oversaw the rebranding of BP, designed to give the firm an environmentally-friendly face, but his 12-year tenure was marked by several ecological disasters in the United States.

The accidents, including the 2005 explosion of a Texas refinery, which left five dead, and a 2006 pipeline leak in Alaska, cost the company dear in terms of both money and reputation.

When he was appointed, Hayward said his priority was the "continued improvement in the safety of our operations everywhere in the world", he told the company's internal magazine.

He said he also sought to "conduct BP's business in a way that is in tune with the world -- working with local communities, developing our local employees and conducting our operations without damaging the environment".

But for many, the Gulf of Mexico spill has made a mockery of those pledges, and Hayward looks set to pay the price.

© 2010 AFP

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