BP ‘not quitting America’, despite Gulf oil spill, Bob Dudley tells CBI
Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, said emphatically today that the oil firm “will not be quitting America” in the wake of the devastating explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that caused an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico and left 11 workers dead.
Addressing an audience of business leaders at the CBI, Dudley said there was “too much at stake” for BP to walk away from the United States and that the company had begun the task of rebuilding trust among federal and state government. He also underlined BP’s determination to continue “finding and producing oil and gas in the deep waters of the world’s oceans”, despite the safety concerns over deepwater drilling following the Gulf spill.
BP is rebuilding US trust after Deepwater Horizon oil spill, its chief executive tells the Confederation of British Industry
He also thanked the British government for its support “during what has been a very difficult time” and said David Cameron’s visit to Washington at a time when anti-British sentiment directed toward BP was at its most hysterical had “real impact” in calming the situation. Dudley reiterated that BP is “deeply sorry for what has happened”.
In a speech pitched at the task of beginning to rebuild BP’s shattered reputation, Dudley also cast a critical eye on the media for its saturation coverage of the event, saying the “demand for information and instant conclusions is insatiable”. He told the audience: “We live in an atmosphere where many things are often exaggerated, opinion can quickly become polarised and it is tempting to react to events in extreme ways.”
He added: “Over 87 days as the oil kept flowing into the ocean, it frequently felt as if we were the only story on the news, 24/7. I have seen figures that in some months fully 30% of the 24-hour news coverage was devoted to the incident.” There was, he added, “a great rush to judgment by a fair number of observers before the full facts could possibly be known, even from some in our industry.
“I watched graphic projections of oil swirling around the gulf, around Florida, across and around Bermuda to England – these appeared authoritative and inevitable. The public fear was everywhere.” He hoped that over the coming months and years a more “balanced and informed judgement about what happened” would emerge.
Dudley, who assumed the chief executive role at the beginning of this month, admitted that “the very existence” of BP had been threatened as a terrible accident grew into a corporate crisis and described the circumstances in which he stepped into the top job as “humbling”.
He has already made a series of changes aimed at restoring BP’s tarnished reputation.
On his arrival he ousted the troubled oil firm’s head of exploration and production and announced a series of measures, including the setting up of a separate safety division, which BP claims will have greater powers to intervene in operations. The company has also carved up the exploration and production division into three units, each with its own boss, to prevent it acting as a semi-autonomous unit within BP. Last week, Dudley also said the company would link staff bonuses to better safety standards.
He denied that BP would turn its back on the US. “Contrary to what is sometimes said, BP is not widely seen over there as ‘British Petroleum’; we’re part of the American community.” He said relationships with federal and state government departments and agencies “have survived and are beginning to recover” in large part because of the scale of BP’s response. “They have not completely lost faith in BP,” he said.
“And for our part, I can promise you that I did not become chief executive of BP in order to walk away from the US. BP will not be quitting America. There is too much at stake, both for BP and the US. The US has major energy needs. BP is the largest producer of oil and gas in the country and a vital contributor to fulfilling them.”
On deepwater drilling, he said: “The deep waters are becoming an increasingly important source of energy to fuel the global economy. They account for around 7% of total oil supplies now, growing to a projected 9% in 2020. And we are one of only a handful of companies with the financial and technological strengths to undertake development projects in these difficult geographies. And it can be done safely.”
Dudley said BP had made “huge progress in cleaning up the spill”, mobilising a fleet of vessels larger than at the Normandy landings and said the “silver lining” was that the industry was now better prepared to prevent this kind of accident in the future. He said he had in recent weeks spent time with experts in other hazardous industries including the nuclear and chemicals industries and noted there was much that could be learned. “There are lessons for us relating to the way we operate, the way we organise our company and the way we manage risk,” he added.
He also insisted that BP remained “financially healthy” and that the firm’s “underlying operational and financial performance is sound”.
Dudley refused to criticise his predecessor, Tony Hayward, who had been widely attacked for a series of gaffes during the crisis. He said Hayward had “defined our aims with great clarity. We would do the right thing and stay the course.”
The leaking well was capped in mid-July, stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf and it was officially declared sealed by US government officials on 19 September.