Who's in charge? Depends on whom you ask.
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Britain's Sky News television on Friday that CEO Tony Hayward is on his way out as the company's point man on the Gulf oil spill crisis. He said Hayward "is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to (BP Managing Director) Bob Dudley."
Other company officials insisted, however, that Hayward was still the man and that the switch had already been announced and isn't immediate.
"Until the acute part of this crisis is over, until the leak is capped, Tony Hayward is still very much in charge in the response of this crisis," BP spokesman Robert Wine said.
Svanberg's remarks came a day after Hayward enraged members of Congress because he had few answers about how the environmental disaster could have happened. However, BP had said earlier this month that Dudley would take over the long-term response to the spill once the leak was stopped, which it hasn't.
In the past eight weeks, between 65 million and 121.6 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from a blown-out undersea well.
Wine said Hayward "will at some point hand over the management of the aftermath," and that Dudley is putting together a team that will "make sure that the long-term impacts are met with as well as the legal, political repercussions from this crisis." Other company spokespeople also said Hayward was still in charge.
There is no date for the handover, Wine said, because "clearly the well is still leaking."
Some positive news came Friday on the cleanup effort. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced that a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity.
By late June, the oil giant hopes it can keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from hitting the ocean.
A pair of relief wells that won't be done until August is the best bet to stop the massive spill that was set off by an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers on April 20. BP has been hammered for its response, in part because of comments by Hayward that Gulf Coast residents horrified by the spill consider insensitive.
Hayward shocked residents in slick-hit Louisiana by saying, "I would like my life back."
On Thursday, Hayward told lawmakers on a U.S. House investigations panel that he was out of the loop on decisions surrounding the blown well. Both Democrats and Republicans were infuriated when he asserted, "I'm not stonewalling."
"It is clear that Tony has made remarks that have upset people," said Svanberg, who made a misstep of his own this week when he said BP cares "about the small people." But he added that Hayward "is also a man who has probably been on 100 hours of TV time and maybe 500."
Dudley, an American-born oil man with more than 30 years in the industry, has been BP's managing director since 2009. His responsibilities include broad oversight of the company's activities in the Americas and Asia, and earlier this month he was named head of the company's disaster management unit.
The company said in a June 4 news release that Dudley would manage the long-term day-to-day operations of the oil spill response "once the spill was over," and that he would report to Hayward. BP said then that the shift was being planned because it wants Hayward to focus on running the company and Dudley to focus on managing "the reputational impact, the financial obligations and restore trust and confidence of BP in America."
Many Gulf Coast residents and business owners who have been economically devastated by the spill are still waiting for compensation from BP. The House Judiciary Committee said data it has collected shows that BP has paid $71 million out of an estimated $600 million in outstanding claims as of Tuesday. It based the figure on data it collected from BP's daily reports to the Coast Guard on claims and on discussions with BP.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an e-mail that the company had paid out $95 million as of Friday, and it had written about 30,000 checks to settle about half the 63,000 claims it has received.
But Jerry Forte, who filed a business claim with BP more than a month ago, hasn't seen a dime. His seafood processing business on the docks in Pass Christian, Miss., used to bring in more than $1 million a year but now is practically shuttered.
"I'm 99 percent down. They took all the shrimp boats. I don't have anybody shrimping," Forte said Friday. "My bank accounts are all going down to nothing because we're spending it all on bills, just waiting on BP."
The slow claims process is just one of many criticisms lawmakers and the public have had with BP's response to the spill — and many of the toughest have been directed at Hayward.
"Whether this change in Gulf leadership for BP will be productive remains to be seen," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. "I expect that Mr. Dudley will take a much more cooperative and open approach to answering our questions and responding to the needs of the Gulf region. If not, his tenure will likely be as short lived as Mr. Hayward's."
The recent oil containment efforts are a rare bit of good news for BP and suggest that its engineers are getting better at trapping oil after a two-month string of failures with equipment that clogged, proved ineffective or was simply abandoned.
"This is a significant improvement moving forward," said Adm. Allen, the top federal official in charge of the spill.
Even if the new containment systems are a success, it could take months for those living along the Gulf Coast to notice any improvement. Experts say oil could be washing up for another six months, and it may take years for wildlife populations harmed by the spill to rebound to levels seen before the leak.
Associated Press writers Shelia Byrd in Jackson, Miss., Brian Skoloff and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in New Orleans, Harry R. Weber in Atlanta, Holbrook Mohr in Venice, La., and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.
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