BP spill could soon put CEO’s job on the line
BP’s efforts to focus global attention on its all-out response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are flagging. U.S. congressional hearings have raised tricky questions about the UK oil group’s conduct prior to the tragic explosion on the rig last month. With the well still leaking, the credibility of BP chief executive Tony Hayward is being tested.
It would be wrong to draw premature conclusions from smatterings of evidence raised at highly charged hearings so soon after the disaster, when any formal probe is far from being concluded.
But there is no dispute that it was only after the accident that BP became aware that the well’s blow-out preventer — the supposedly failsafe device that malfunctioned and caused the leak — had been modified. We also know now that the well failed certain operational tests on the day of the explosion.
BP has long maintained that it was not directly responsible for the accident, since the rig and the drilling had been outsourced to deep-sea expert Transocean. But that defence would be undermined if it became clear that BP sanctioned drilling on a rig known to have had problems.
Moreover, it reflects badly on BP’s response effort if it turns out that the company’s engineers did not realise that they were working on a modified blow-out preventer.
Having tried to argue that BP should be judged only on the clean-up effort and its success in stopping the leak, Hayward would be in big trouble if it turned out that BP procedures were implicated in the accident itself. After all, Hayward got the top job at BP precisely because he was seen as the best person to address BP’s poor safety record.
Hayward has always said that the spill will be stopped within 90 days of when BP started to drill on relief wells to ease the pressure from the main well. That means the beginning of August. He had better deliver on that promise. If he doesn’t, someone else may end up defending BP against any other attacks that emerge.