BP chief executive Tony Hayward has pulled out of a scheduled appearance at a London oil conference on the eve of the event, citing his commitment to the Gulf of Mexico relief effort. The move comes just days after BP replaced Hayward, who infuriated some for his handling of the oil spill, as the point man in the clean-up.
BP PLC said Monday that Hayward would skip Tuesday's session of the World National Oil Companies Congress, an annual gathering of oil executives from across the globe.
The last-minute pullout follows stinging criticism of Hayward's attendance of a yacht race on the Isle of Wight off the coast of southern England over the weekend. BP has defended the trip as much-needed family time.
BP spokesman Jon Pack said Hayward's "very heavy schedule of commitments" to the slick-hit Gulf coast meant that Hayward couldn't make the conference, where he was due to give the keynote speech about the global responsibilities of international oil companies. He will be replaced by his deputy, BP chief of staff Steve Westwell.
The London-based company had said on 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, that BP was grossly negligent in its operation of the failed drilling rig. It said that 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 is broadcasting what it says is 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 the broadcaster'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 is 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 the oil to gush out unimpeded.
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.
Associated Press Writers Robert Barr and Martin Benedyk contributed to this report.
World National Oil Companies Congress: http://www.terrapinn.com/2010/nocs/index.stm
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