DON GONYEA, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Don Gonyea.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne.
In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the job of restoring BP's battered image - and its battered finances - will now fall on a new chief executive officer. Robert Dudley will take over the British-based company on October 1st, becoming BP's first American CEO. He'll replace Tony Hayward, who's handling of the Gulf oil spill has been widely criticized, and whose series of gaffes angered many Americans.
BP is setting aside more than $32 billion to pay for current and future costs of the spill. That led to yesterday's announcement that BP was posting a loss of $17 billion in its second quarter.
BP's incoming chief executive joins us this morning from the company's offices in London, to talk about the future of the company.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. ROBERT DUDLEY (BP CEO): Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, is your job really going to be dealing with this oil spill in its many forms?
Mr. DUDLEY: Yes, of course. I think one of the highest priorities for me will be a focus strongly on the oil spill or response, making sure we meet our commitments in the next month and a half and the years ahead. Our success and our ability to do business in the United States, I think, depends on our corporate response and follow-through on this. And we have some very large commitments that we intend to keep in America.
MONTAGNE: Well, as I just mentioned, you're an American - as we can tell, by listening to you. You also spent your childhood in Mississippi, one of the states hurt by this oil spill. What will it take to rebuild America's trust in BP, and especially the folks in the Gulf?
Mr. DUDLEY: Well, I think the first thing we must do is cap this well and kill it permanently - and we're very close. Oil hasnt flowed into the Gulf now for 13 days. Thats step one. The second one is maintaining a - sort of a full-court press on oil on the surface, to continue to skim that up. And then we've got beaches that still have to be cleaned up.
There are people along the Gulf Coast that think because we've capped the well that then, we're just going to pack up and leave. And thats not the case. We'll be there for years. We'll have offices across the Gulf Coast. And so one of my roles - and the management team we'll make sure we do restore things, and get back to business.
MONTAGNE: Three years ago, the new CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, promised BP's board that he would focus as - Im quoting him - like a laser on safety. Youve told the board that BP will hold itself to a higher standard in terms of safety.
Can you give a specific example of what you will be doing differently in the coming weeks and months, in terms of improving safety?
Mr. DUDLEY: We will reorganize and restructure our businesses to put a much higher set of checks and balances, of functional expertise on safety across the business.
Tony Hayward - I have great admiration for what Tony did, put in place the foundation for this focus on safe and reliable operations and people, that was moving. It was a very different company in 2005 than it is today. However...However...
MONTAGNE: Although it would be fair for people to say moving too slowly, as it turns out.
Mr. DUDLEY: Well, I think there's no question, with this accident, that we've got to up the trajectory on this dramatically, and thats what we will be doing. And we're already thinking and planning on whats the right way to do that. And sometime between October and the end of the year, we'll put that in place.
The other thing I'd say, Renee, is that this accident is a very complicated accident. And some of the testimony coming out of the Marine Board in New Orleans is showing that this is a series of human judgments and equipment failures, in an unusual sequence here, that will involve many of the companies here. And I think it's not just for BP to learn. I think the entire industry is going to learn many things about the importance of safety and equipment.
MONTAGNE: There's a bill going through Congress right now that some are calling the BP bill, that would keep companies with poor safety records from getting new licenses for exploration for oil and gas in the Gulf. Are you concerned about that?
Mr. DUDLEY: Well, I've read the provisions of the bill, and it does look like it's very tailored for BP. BP has operated in the Gulf of Mexico for 20 years, drilling in the deep water without an incident - and operates off-shore, has for quite some time, safely. This accident certainly will make everybody stop and think.
I think it should be a thoughtful approach to this. A simple banning of one of America's largest employers there in the Gulf may have some unintended consequences. And I think there's a couple of things that America should look at: first, what I think is an unprecedented corporate response to this tragedy -with 45,000 people working with the Coast Guard on the spill response, having developed the engineering in short order to cap a well like this, making good on the impact that it's had economically for the people on the Gulf Coast; plus the re-looking of our entire company around safety, and then sharing those learnings with the rest of the industry.
I think we - this is a bad - a terrible tragedy, but what good can come out of it is making the oil and gas industry more fail-safe, both in the Gulf of Mexico and around the globe, and BP wants and needs to play a role in that.
MONTAGNE: Let me ask you about the amount oil that has spilled in the Gulf. In a letter released yesterday, BP earlier this month told the Coast Guard, when it was requesting permission to use more oil dispersants, that it - BP - assumed an oil outflow of 53,000 barrels a day. Do you stand by that number, 53,000 barrels a day?
Mr. DUDLEY: Well, Renee, all these numbers, they're actually not BP's numbers. They come from the government scientists, and there's a - I think it's called a rate investigation team. And...
MONTAGNE: Right. But that has huge implications for BP, because BP would be fined if it's found negligent for every barrel of oil that goes into the Gulf.
Mr. DUDLEY: Well, that's right, and that is a very, very big number. I think the scientific team, which BP is not a member of - the government team is working through that right now - and they'll come out with a very detailed set of calculations on that. And you are absolutely right - there will be a very large fine. Could be the largest fine in corporate history, I would think. And we put some very big provisions in our second-quarter numbers because that's what we expect.
MONTAGNE: We're speaking to Bob Dudley, who has been named the new CEO, as of October 1st, for BP. As of this morning, what is your target date for getting the well sealed permanently? And how sure are you of that?
Mr. DUDLEY: Yes, well, after Tropical Storm Bonnie came through, we came back after that, had been monitoring the well, and the cap has held, so we're now beginning the processes of putting in place manifolds to be able to do the static top kill as early as Monday. And then we can follow with the relief well.
It is possible, Renee, that as early as Monday or Tuesday, this well might be killed. There's no precision; there's nothing guaranteed. I'm hopeful, and I do believe, we've seen the end of the oil flowing into the Gulf.
MONTAGNE: You know, finally - and this is, of course, the paramount concern - in your view, is the damage currently being done to wildlife, the environment, and people's livelihoods in the Gulf, can it be repaired? Can things be brought back to where they were?
Mr. DUDLEY: I will tell you, growing up in the South and spending a lot of time in the Gulf of Mexico, I am an optimist. It's a very restorative body of water. And I'm not saying that we're not going to be doing a lot for many years, but I have to be very much of an optimist about the restoration of the Gulf Coast. And when you talk to people who live down there, who have been through so many storms and so many tragedies, that is how they feel as well. But we're not going to leave it just to that. We'll stay involved.
But longer term, I'm optimistic that the Gulf will restore itself.
MONTAGNE: Bob Dudley takes over as BP's chief executive officer on the 1st of October. We reached him in London. Thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. DUDLEY: Okay. Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.