Hayward Moved Aside as BP Reports Gains in Gulf


A day after Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, was pummeled by members of a House committee over the company’s role in the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the chairman of the company said in an interview that Mr. Hayward would step away from daily involvement in BP’s enormous response efforts in the gulf.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, the chairman of BP, told Sky News that after eight weeks of being on the scene, Mr. Hayward “is now handing over the operations, the daily operations, to Bob Dudley.”

He referred to Robert Dudley, an American oil executive who has been a managing director of BP since 2009.

Over five hours of testimony to the oversight and investigations panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, Mr. Hayward repeatedly said he had no direct knowledge of the company’s safety decisions in connection with the stricken well, and refused to speculate about the causes of the oil spill before a company investigation of the accident is completed. His sidestepping of basic questions angered lawmakers, who told him that he was “stonewalling” the committee.

Mr. Svanberg, who spoke for the company after a delegation of executives met with President Obama and his aides at the White House on Wednesday, acknowledged that Mr. Hayward has struggled in the public’s perception.

“It is clear Tony has made remarks that have upset people,” Mr. Svanberg said to Sky News.

Mr. Svanberg himself had to apologize for his own remarks after he called those affected by the spill in the gulf “small people.”

While the company prepared to make changes at the top of its response effort, BP reported some incremental progress in the field.

On Thursday, BP was able to recapture 25,290 barrels of crude oil leaking from the wrecked well. It was the most the company had yet been able to collect in a day through the containment cap system it put in place earlier this month.

Workers drilling one of the relief wells, meant to help seal the well more completely, came within 200 feet of the damaged well on Friday, BP said. And the Coast Guard said that skimming equipment was being produced and prepared for attachment to thousands more available vessels to collect oil off the surface of the sea.

Oil is still gushing from the undersea well at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day, however, and shows no signs of slowing down. The well may not be killed — the technical term for sealing off what has become a pernicious adversary — until August, when the two relief wells are completed.

How is it possible to measure progress that seems like a few tiny drops in the proverbial bucket?

The Coast Guard and BP prefer to consider the recent small advances — cautiously — as signs of hope. The Q4000, the second vessel to join the containment effort above the well, began collecting oil early on Tuesday morning, and within three days achieved its maximum capacity of about 10,000 barrels a day.

“I was quite encouraged,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, who gave a technical update to reporters on Friday.

By the end of June, the Q4000, together with the Discoverer Enterprise, the vessel with a direct connection to the containment cap on the well, will be joined by a third means of collecting escaping oil — a free-standing riser on the seabed floor. Together, they are expected to be able to collect about 50,000 barrels of oil daily, Mr. Wells said.

Two relief wells are being drilled, but although the first is close to the existing well, it will still take until early August to complete them, Mr. Wells said. It was unclear how long it would take from that point to kill the well.

“While we’re extremely encouraged about how well the drilling is going,” Mr. Wells said, the relief drilling will have to go slower now, becoming more cautious the closer the operation gets to intersecting the damaged well.

“Things have gone well down to this stage, but that doesn’t always mean things will continue to go well,” Mr. Wells said. “Obviously, we’re looking to kill the well as soon as possible.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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