BP chief likely to resign in wake of US oil spill

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The chief executive of British oil giant BP, Tony Hayward, was likely to resign within the next 24 hours in the aftermath of the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BBC reported.

Citing a senior BP source, the BBC said that an announcement was due shortly on Hayward, whose future has been in doubt for several weeks over his handling of the worst environmental disaster in US history.

There is a "strong likelihood" that he would be replaced by Bob Dudley, who took over management of BP's response to the spill from Hayward last month, the public broadcaster added.

Earlier, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Hayward was poised to resign before London-based BP announces its half-year results on Tuesday. The BP board is expected to meet on Monday ahead of the announcement.

Last Monday BP put the cost of its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill at 3.95 billion dollars (3.05 billion euros).

Reports have suggested for days that Hayward would resign at some point in the coming weeks as BP battles to recover its reputation.

The Sunday Telegraph said that there could be wrangling over Hayward's severance package, under which he is likely to be paid a minimum figure of just over one million pounds (1.5 million dollars, 1.2 million euros).

Asked about the BBC report, a BP spokesman told AFP he would not comment on speculation. He added: "Tony Hayward is our chief executive. He has the full support of the board and management."

In the Gulf itself, engineers moved ahead Sunday with preparations for a well "kill" operation that officials hope will permanently plug the oil leak that erupted April 20 when an offshore oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers.

A drill rig vessel charged with sinking a relief well that should finally stop the deep-sea oil leak arrived back at the site of the spill on Saturday after briefly moving away due to a tropical storm.

US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the first chance to seal the well for good could come soon. "That is a very rough estimate, three to five days from now," he said.

The returning drill rig, Development Driller 3, was among about 10 ships that fled the area ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. A cap has been lowered over the wellhead, but it has been leaking since July 15.

Local residents are desperate to permanently resolve the disaster, more than three months after the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

The International Energy Agency estimates that between 2.3 million and 4.5 million barrels of crude have gushed into the sea.

A BP spokesman, Bryan Ferguson, said it would take around 21 hours to reconnect the Development Driller 3 to drilling operations some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the sea surface.

The rig is drilling the first of two relief wells that will be used to definitively plug the devastating spill.

BP and US officials currently plan two operations to kill the well.

The first, a "static kill," involves pumping heavy drilling fluid known as "mud" through a blowout preventer valve system that sits on top of the well, and then injecting cement to seal it.

The process is similar to a "top kill" attempt that failed in May, but officials say the cap now in place over the leak will make the operation easier and more likely to succeed.

However, BP and US officials have said the ultimate solution to the leak will be the relief wells, which will intersect the original well.

Using the same process as the static kill, drilling fluid, which is denser than oil, will be pumped via the relief well until the flow of crude is overcome, allowing the damaged well to be sealed with cement.

Before either can begin, the last section of the relief well must be secured with a 3,000-foot piece of steel pipe called a "casing run", which will be cemented in place.

"You're probably into three to five days from now when they might be able to be in a position to have the casing pipe in place and we could probably start the static kill at that point," Allen said.

The spill has now washed up oil along the shorelines of all five US states on the Gulf Coast, but some experts said high waves kicked up by Tropical Storm Bonnie might actually help dissolve some of the oil faster.

Other experts argued that surface currents bolstered by high winds would likely shift the near-surface oil closer to the Gulf Coast and spread it over a larger area, and that a hurrican-like storm could send fouled water far up into the bayous, contaminating spawning grounds for fish and shrimp.

© 2010 AFP

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