Hayward expected to resign as BP looks to rebuild

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BP will sacrifice embattled chief executive Tony Hayward within days as it tries to rebuild its image in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, reports said Sunday.

The BBC said Hayward was negotiating his exit and an announcement was likely by Monday when the BP board meets ahead of second quarter results expected to reveal a 30-billion-dollar provision for paying for the disaster.

In the Gulf, engineers moved ahead Sunday with preparations to finally "kill" the runaway well that has unleashed up to four million barrels (170 million gallons) of crude into the sea since a deadly rig explosion in April.

The leak was sealed 10 days ago with a giant cap and US spill chief Admiral Thad Allen hopes to begin a "static kill" operation to permanently plug the oil reservoir miles beneath the seabed in August.

The spill has washed up toxic crude along the shore of all five US states on the Gulf Coast and vital tourism, fishing and oil industries in the region have been decimated by the disaster.

BP is facing a lengthy claims process and hundreds of lawsuits are pending against the British energy giant, not to mention hearings into the cause of the initial April 20 blast that should determine eventual liability.

The BBC report, which quotes a senior BP source, said there was a "strong likelihood" Bob Dudley, who took over the day-to-day management of the spill response from the Hayward last month, would be his replacement.

The Sunday Telegraph said 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."

But a long line of gaffes stretching back to the weeks after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon exploration rig exploded and sank back in April has made Hayward deeply unpopular in the United States.

He enraged residents of the stricken US Gulf states when he said in an interview with Britain's Sky News on May 18: "I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest."

Then on May 30 he was seen as particularly insensitive to the families of 11 US rig workers who died in the initial blast when he said he wanted the disaster over with so he could have his life back.

His pariah status was confirmed when he took part in a family yacht race in June, prompting President Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel to say it had, "just been part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes."

His resignation would be seen as a sign that BP is keen to draw a line under the disaster and start trying to rebuild its shattered image -- but that will be particularly difficult in the United States.

Accused of constantly trying to play down the impact of the disaster to minimize its liability, BP has recently found itself in the cross-hairs for a totally separate scandal.

The US Senate is examining claims by US lawmakers that it pressured the British government for the Lockerbie bomber's release amid anger he remains alive in Libya almost a year after being released on compassionate ground.

BP's efforts to permanently resolve the oil disaster in the Gulf were threatened last week by Tropical Storm Bonnie, but an evacuation was called off as the system weakened and ships and drilling rigs are now back on site.

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 the cap on top of the well.

The ultimate solution will be the relief wells -- the first of which will intersect the original well before the end of August.

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 reservoir to be sealed with cement.

Before either can begin, the last section of the relief well must be secured with a 3,000-foot (900-meter) piece of casing, which has to be cemented in place.

© 2010 AFP

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