BP CEO Tony Hayward On What's Next

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The British oil company BP is searching for other ways to seal the leaking oil well after a failed attempt over the weekend to cover the leak with a containment dome. Michele Norris talks to BP's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, about the accident that led to the spill, and the company's plans going forward.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And Im Michele Norris.

The British oil company BP is searching for other ways to seal the leaking oil well after a failed attempt over the weekend to cover the leak with a containment dome. More than 5,000 barrels of oil a day have been leaking from the damaged well 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.

And we're joined now by BP's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward. He joins us from Houston. Welcome to the program.

Dr. TONY HAYWARD (Chief Executive Officer, British Petroleum): Thank you.

NORRIS: Now that this containment dome has failed, what is Plan B - if I guess we can even call it that, since the company has tried several things at this point?

Dr. HAYWARD: Well, we're continuing to fight this aggressively on three fronts: In the subsea to eliminate the leak; on the surface to contain the oil offshore; and along the shoreline to defend the shoreline. In terms of the subsea intervention, we're pursuing multiple options in parallel. Clearly the larger dome, as you said, didnt work over the weekend. We've moved on to deploy a smaller containment device, which we're referring to as a top hat, which we'll be deploying over the next 72 hours or so.

Beyond that we are looking at interventions over the course of the next two weeks. That would involve the blowout preventer itself, the big valve on the seabed that has failed to operate. And what we're doing is lining up to pump material into it to seal it, something that is referred to as a top kill or junk shot.

NORRIS: It seems like there's some risk associated with that, though, because the blowout preventer is working in part. Are you worried that if you start to do anything that it might fail all together and that might send much more oil into the Gulf?

Dr. HAYWARD: Well, thats clearly why we are taking our time ensuring that we have all of the diagnostics of the blowout preventer. So we are - we have over the last 48 hours managed to obtain pressure data, which has given us confidence of the ability to execute the top kill. We have got gamma ray data, which is giving us a good indication as to the configuration of the blowout preventer on the seabed.

NORRIS: Mr. Hayward, this is the deepest well blowout on record. And the people are most knowledgeable in dealing with deepwater wells are at the outer edge of their expertise, even when things are going well. The Coast Guard and oil industry analysts say that drilling here is almost like visiting outer space. It's like a great unknown. So why are you drilling there if there's so much that is not known about this territory?

Dr. HAYWARD: Well, we're drilling because it's a very important source of energy for the United States and the world. That is the reality. Almost 30 percent of the United States oil production today comes from the deep waters. That is where there is the opportunity to provide domestic energy security. That is where there is an opportunity to provide energy security for the world. And, of course, oil isnt all of the solution but it's a part of the solution.

NORRIS: That opportunity obviously comes, though, with great peril. Is deepwater drilling riskier than BP believed?

Dr. HAYWARD: I think you have to go back to, you know, the track record of the industry and BP's over the last 20 years. The industry has drilled over 5,000 wells. BP has drilled around 1,500 of those 5,000 wells, and this is the first time that we've had a major incident. And I think it is legitimate to draw analogies with, for example, the space program.

The space program was not cancelled because of the issues around Apollo 13. It's also legitimate to draw comparisons with the airline industry. When the Air France plane fell out of the sky coming out of Brazil, we didnt ground the airline industry. So we need to learn the lessons here. They will be learned and they will shape, Im certain, the industry as it moves forward.

NORRIS: Is it legitimate also to draw parallels to the EXXON Valdez spill, where it was determined that human error was also a factor?

Dr. HAYWARD: Well, I think we have to await the results of the investigations. You know, my focus today, quite frankly, is on the response.

NORRIS: You know, when I listen to you talk about your record, you note that youve been drilling - doing this kind of deepwater drilling for two decades and youve only had one major spill like this. You know, many people would say that thats hardly anything to crow about, though.

Dr. HAYWARD: Well, Im not crowing about it. Im just saying its a statement of fact. You know, this is clearly a very serious incident which we are taking incredibly seriously. We are responding in a very, very aggressive way. We are working with all of the federal agencies to control it and eliminate the leak. So, there's no crowing here. It's just a statement of fact. This is the first time in 25 years we've had to contend with this issue.

NORRIS: Now, you say that right now you're working with the federal agencies and state agencies. BP is facing, as you know, more than a hundred civil lawsuits. And now an angry BP investor has sued the company, saying that BP has put profits ahead of safety. And one of the main claims in that suit is that the company lobbied state and federal agencies to remove or decrease the extent of safety and maintenance regulations in favor of voluntary compliance.

So, while you say you're working with federal and state agencies now, this lawsuit claims that you were working against them, fighting hard against the government in terms of rolling back oversight.

Dr. HAYWARD: I dont believe there's any evidence of that. The dialogue that we were having with the government at that time was not trying to push off regulation. It was to ensure that the regulation was the right regulation, applied in the right way to eliminate risk and not to lead us to believe we'd eliminated risk, when in fact we hadn't.

NORRIS: Are you in favor - still in favor of voluntary compliance in the face of the spill?

Dr. HAYWARD: Im in favor of the right regulation to ensure that risk is absolutely managed and minimized to the greatest extent possible.

NORRIS: Is it possible that we might be looking at weeks or perhaps even months before this well is capped?

Dr. HAYWARD: It's certainly possible. It's not what we're planning on. It's not what we're wanting to have as the outcome. But we have to recognize that as a possibility and be prepared to deal with it if that should be the case.

NORRIS: Mr. Hayward, thank you very much.

Dr. HAYWARD: Thank you very much, indeed, for the opportunity.

NORRIS: Tony Hayward is the chief executive officer of the oil company BP.

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