BP's Bob Dudley predicts Gulf spill has ended, vows cleanup

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 27, 2010 

WASHINGTON — As he was named the new chief executive of BP, Bob Dudley said with quiet confidence Tuesday that he believed no more oil would spill into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon.

Then, the first American to head the British energy company spoke emotionally about his long-term commitment to the Gulf Coast, especially to Mississippi, where he grew up.

"It's very personal to me," said Dudley, 54, who was raised in Hattiesburg, about 40 miles north of the Gulf Coast, where his father taught at the University of Southern Mississippi. Dudley said he spent much of his time on the coast on his family's boat, off of Gulfport, Biloxi and Ship Island.

"I have friends there," he said, speaking from BP headquarters in London, adding that he still vacations in Bay St. Louis, Miss. "I enjoy going back to the same places where I was a kid."

Dudley, who's been spearheading BP's U.S. response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, said he wanted to shoot down "the myth that BP was going to draw back from its commitment after capping the well."

"No one's thinking that way," Dudley said. "That is not where we're stopping."

Dudley, a BP executive before being elevated to the chief executive slot, negotiated the $20 billion BP escrow victim fund with the White House and said the company at this time is taking a $32 billion pre-tax charge on its books for the spill in anticipation of costs. That includes a $100 million fund for rig workers affected by the Obama administration's six-month drilling moratorium.

The 30-year veteran of the oil industry will take over as BP's chief on Oct. 1, when Tony Hayward steps down. Hayward will be given a job with BP's troubled Russian joint venture, which Dudley once ran until he was forced to flee Russia in July 2008 during a dispute with BP's Russian partners.

The soft-spoken Dudley said that "it's a bit of a sad day" for him with the announcement of Hayward's departure.

Dudley said he respected Hayward, who drew criticism in the U.S. for his handling of the Gulf spill and by saying, among other things, "I want my life back."

As for his own style, Dudley said, "I usually don't like talking about myself." He added, "I listen very hard and carefully to people."

"I did not seek out this job," he said. "I was asked to step into these shoes."

An Amoco official until 1998, when BP bought the company, Dudley ran a BP joint venture in Russia for five years before his sudden flight from Moscow to Paris. He's been a troubleshooter for the company since.

Dudley said that he was "keenly, keenly committed" to making sure BP stands by its promises to restore the Gulf Coast now that the well appears to be capped.

About two weeks ago, a cap finally stopped the oil flow.

"With the cap in place, there's every indication the well has complete integrity," Dudley said. "I do not believe we will see more oil seeping into the Gulf."

On Tuesday, BP's vice president for exploration, Kent Wells, said the company would begin forcing drilling mud into the well this weekend in an effort to kill it in what officials are calling a "static kill." If that succeeds, Wells said, engineers may decide to follow the mud with cement that would seal the well permanently. A relief well, which until recently had been thought to be the primary hope for killing the runaway well, won't be ready to intercept it for two more weeks, Wells said.

Asked about the company's culture, especially regarding safety, Dudley said, "There's no question we're going to learn things from this incident that we must and will respond to and that will make us a much safer company."

The company has a shaky safety record, including a 2005 Texas City, Texas, refinery explosion that killed 15 workers.

However, Dudley said the company has changed and will change more under his watch. It also will be known for keeping its promise to restore the Gulf Coast, he said.

Dudley remembered going to the Mississippi Coast in the 1960s but felt that recently — "pre-spill" — the beaches were better and more beautiful "than I remember 30 or 40 years ago."

For Dudley, it's not just nostalgia but a desire to restore the beaches to their best. "We want to get them back to where it was," he said.

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