NEW ORLEANS — It looks like Tony Hayward will finally get his life back after all.
The Associated Press is reporting than an official says Hayward will step down in October and take a job with the company’s joint venture in Russia.
The gaffe-prone Brit is on his way out as CEO of oil giant BP, according to a senior U.S. government official. An announcement could come by sundown today about the fate of the man who enraged scores of frustrated Gulf residents by infamously declaring “I’d like my life back” in May.
The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.
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The 53-year-old Hayward was BP’s most visible figure for weeks after the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But he faded from the scene after several tone-deaf comments made people even angrier at the company than they had been.
He minimized the environmental effects of the spill, questioned the existence of oil plumes identified by scientists, and enraged members of Congress when he said he was out of the loop on decisions at the well before the explosion. Another goof: In mid-June, as live video showed oil gushing into the Gulf, Hayward went home to England — and attended a yacht race.
“He seems like a pretty self-absorbed person, so I’m not surprised to hear he would walk away in the middle of all this,” said Gulf resident Patrick Shay, 43, who sat on a porch swing at his cottage in Grand Isle on Sunday. His front yard is filled with small, white crosses, each bearing the name of sea life or ways of life the oil spill has killed. “If anything it will help. They need to get him out of the way and get this cleaned up.”
It’s unclear who will replace Hayward or when it will happen, but one of the most likely successors is BP Managing Director Bob Dudley, who is overseeing the British company’s spill response and would be BP’s first American CEO. He took the lead on oil spill duties after Hayward was pilloried for the yacht episode.
A change in leadership will not change the mammoth tasks ahead of BP, from stopping the offshore oil gusher for good, to cleaning up the millions of gallons that have already leaked, to paying billions in claims — all while defending its stock price and repairing its battered reputation.
A temporary plug has stopped oil from gushing for more than a week now, but before that the busted well had spewed anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said Hayward’s departure will be good for BP’s image.
“I just hope they replace him with somebody who understands the situation, someone who will come down here and see what’s happening on a regular basis, someone who will communicate with us,” he said. “From the beginning it was obvious this guy was not the leader needed in this crisis.”
But other Gulf residents shrugged upon hearing the news. The oil, they said, has already done its damage.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Chris Foss, a 39-year-old boat captain from Port Sulphur. “Whatever happens with the corporate dudes is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what they are going to do about this mess.”
David Duet, 62, of LaRose, La., filled his ice chest at the grocery store in Grand Isle, where he brings his camper every weekend despite the oil.
“I don’t think he’s directly responsible for the spill, but he still had to answer for it,” said Duet, who worked on oil rigs for more than 22 years. “I can understand the time it took to cap it. I know how hard things are out there.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said BP’s attitude about making things right is more important than who is running it.
“BP, from I think everybody’s perspective, made a very bad mistake,” she said. “I think what the world expects from BP is an acknowledgment that something was done wrong. I think BP has a long way to go to gain the trust of the people.”
Hayward “became a sacrificial lamb in a politically charged world,” said Oppenheimer & Co. senior analyst Fadel Gheit.
Dudley would be well suited to take over, Gheit said, describing him as even-tempered and a good delegator. But he added, “I’m not sure if removing Tony Hayward is going to throw BP’s problems away.”