BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said he did not plan to quit over the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as the energy giant’s bid to contain the crude appeared to reach a turning point.
Public and political pressure has been mounting on London-based BP to cap its gushing seabed oil well and take full financial responsibility for the cleanup and damage caused to Gulf coast fisheries, wildlife and tourism.
Hayward became a lightning rod for Americans’ anger with BP when he told struggling Gulf Coast residents last month, “I would like my life back,” a remark widely seen as insensitive and which rekindled speculation he may not survive the crisis.
“It hasn’t crossed my mind. It’s clearly crossed other people’s minds but not mine,” Hayward told The Sunday Telegraph in an interview when asked if he had thought of stepping down as head of BP due to the outcry over the oil spill.
He said he understood the frustration at the length of time it was taking to contain the well. “I think the reaction is entirely understandable when something of this magnitude occurred. I’m also angry and frustrated.”
But BP seemed to make headway with its latest attempt to halt the spill — a containment dome fixed atop the well. It said it collected 6,077 barrels (255,000 gallons/966,000 liters) of oil from the well on Friday, the first day the new containment dome was operational.
That figure represented only about one-third to one-half of the oil estimated to be leaking from the damaged well each day, but it seemed like progress in a crisis now 48 days old.
BP said the rate of oil siphoning should increase once engineers tweak equipment at the well site, located about one mile under the ocean’s surface. The maximum collection rate from the small containment device was estimated at about 15,000 barrels per day by U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is heading up the federal oil spill relief efforts.
The spill’s impact on the environment and its implications for energy policy and regulation are expected to dominate the Sunday television news talk shows in the United States. Allen is slated for at least four TV appearances.
The Obama administration has delayed plans to increase offshore drilling as a result of the spill.
Oil began leaking from the well after an April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers. U.S. government scientists estimate that between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil a day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico since then.
The company faces a criminal probe, lawsuits, dwindling investor confidence and growing questions about its credit-worthiness. Its share price has been stripped of about one-third of its value since the crisis began.
BP said it has spent $1 billion on the spill and has vowed to pay all legitimate claims of those harmed by the disaster. It has delayed a decision on whether to suspend payment of its quarterly dividends, despite U.S. political pressure to do so.
After contaminating wetland wildlife refuges in Louisiana and barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama, the black tide of crude oil has taken aim at some of the famous white beaches of Florida, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
Fully one-third of the Gulf’s federal waters, or 78,603 square miles (202,582 square km), remains closed to fishing, and the toll of dead and injured birds and marine animals, including sea turtles and dolphins, is climbing.
“BP can’t stop it, I don’t think the Navy or the military can stop it,” said Michael Penzone, a businessman in Pensacola, Florida.
Facing one of his biggest political tests, President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to counter claims that the government had not responded aggressively enough to the crisis and that he was too detached.