Tony Hayward is to step down as BP's chief executive within the next ten weeks as the company seeks to draw a line under its disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sources said Tuesday.
Sources close to BP, which is battling to restore its reputation and stave off a takeover, said there was a growing expectation that Hayward, 53, would announce his departure in late August or September.
Assuming the ruptured Macondo well has been permanently sealed by then, his exit is expected before October 1. It could be linked to an announcement on a new strategy being crafted for the group, dubbed Future BP.
One insider said it was common sense that Hayward would have to go so that BP could shore up its defenses against the threat of a buyout by ExxonMobil or Royal Dutch Shell.
He added: “Why keep utterly damaged goods on the shelf? They have to do some dramatic things to protect the company, and his credibility is now close to zero. People may not blame this situation on Tony Hayward, but you would be hard-pushed to find anyone within the company who does not think he is irreparably damaged -- both by his own performance and by the event itself.”
Questions also persist over the future of Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman, who joined only on January 1, when the doomed Macondo drilling program was already well advanced.
Svanberg was seen meeting his public relations adviser in a London hotel coffee shop Tuesday, ahead of a BP board meeting this week that will help to determine the company’s future.
Robert Dudley, an American oil executive who was appointed last month to run BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, is widely viewed as the front-runner to replace Hayward.
An external candidate for the job remains a possibility, but insiders emphasized that BP’s board was under pressure to make a rapid appointment, which may play to Dudley’s advantage.
BP declined to comment on Hayward’s future, saying he remained the chief executive and had no plans to step down.
Meanwhile on Tuesday federal and BP officials said they have identified five very small leaks in and around the oil well, according to The Times-Picayune. None of the leaks are believed to pose a significant problem.
"We've found nothing that would be consequential," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander overseeing the spill.
He said the federal government had authorized another 24-hour period of integrity tests.
"We continue to be pleased with the progress," he said.
Scientists are still examining new proposals by BP to hasten the death of its blown-out well by using a “static kill” procedure.
This involves pouring mud through the new containment cap on the seabed to swamp the well and push the oil back into its reservoir.