LONDON — BP chief executive Tony Hayward has canceled his appearance at a London oil conference on Tuesday, citing his commitment to the Gulf of Mexico relief effort.
The announcement Monday follows stinging criticism of Hayward’s weekend outing to the Isle of Wight to see his boat compete in a high-profile English yacht race, a move which drew outrage across the Gulf and an acerbic response from the White House.
Hayward will skip Tuesday’s session of the World National Oil Companies Congress, an annual gathering of oil executives from across the globe where he was due to give the keynote speech about the global responsibilities of international oil companies, according to BP PLC spokesman Jon Pack. Hayward will be replaced by his deputy, BP chief of staff Steve Westwell.
The London-based company said Sunday that Hayward planned to attend the gathering.
Pack declined to say where Hayward would be Tuesday or whether he was returning to the United States.
BP has said that Bob Dudley will take over as BP’s point man on the spill response, replacing Hayward but still reporting to him, once the leak is plugged. That is still thought to be at least six weeks away, although in a television interview Friday BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg seemed to suggest that the handover could take place sooner.
As BP continues to try bring the spill under control, it is embroiled in a public battle with one of its partners over who is responsible for the catastrophic failure of the Deepwater Horizon well, which may have spilled anywhere from 68 million to 126 million gallons of crude.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which has a 25 percent stake in the well, said BP was grossly negligent in its operation of the failed drilling rig. Anadarko said its joint operating agreement makes BP responsible to co-owners for any damage due to gross negligence or willful misconduct.
BP countered that all the partners shared in liability for damage resulting from exploration in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. It added that the co-owners had confirmed to the U.S. federal government that they would be liable for oil spill cleanup costs.
In a further attack on BP’s safety practices, the BBC broadcast what it said was an interview with a former Deepwater Horizon worker who claims he identified a leak in the oil rig’s safety equipment weeks before the explosion.
Tyrone Benton told BBC’s “Panorama” program he spotted a leak in one of the control pods which helped operate the so-called “blowout preventer,” a failsafe mechanism which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of a catastrophic failure. The preventer malfunctioned when the rig exploded on April 20, allowing oil to gush out.
Benton said the problem wasn’t immediately fixed – despite e-mails sent to both BP, which ran the rig, and Transocean Ltd., which owned it.
Instead, the pod was shut down and a second one was relied upon to operate the preventer. Benton said he didn’t know if the faulty pod was ever turned back on before the disaster.
In a statement, BP said it was aware of the allegations, but that Transocean was responsible “for both the operation and maintenance” of the blowout preventer. Contact information for Benton could not immediately be located.
Stock in BP, which said it has now spent $2 billion since April 20 trying to stop the oil gusher and to pay initial claims for damages on shore, fell 2.2 percent to 349.5 pence ($5.18) in London Monday. The company has seen its value cut nearly in half since the disaster.
In the U.S., shares of BP dropped $1.63, or 5.1 percent, to $30.13 in afternoon trading after Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit cut his price target on the shares to $45 from $55 because of Anadarko’s accusations, which he said were made, in part, to reduce its future financial exposure to liabilities.
Gheit said cleanup cost estimates run from $20 billion to $140 billion spread over five to 20 years. He said BP can survive his cost estimate of $30 billion to $60 billion, but costs topping $100 billion could force the company into bankruptcy.
“BP faces record cleanup costs and financial liabilities that are very difficult, if not impossible, to estimate with a high level of certainty,” Gheit said in a research note.