NEW ORLEANS – They were both pivotal figures following the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history: one for angering Gulf residents with his ill-conceived comments about wanting his life back and by attending a weekend yacht race, the other for his ubiquitous presence along the crude-stained shores.
It seems fitting that both Tony Hayward and Thad Allen were officially replaced on the same day Friday. They are gone from their roles as BP PLC chief executive and national incident commander, respectively, but will not be soon forgotten as the damage from the spill endures and investigations continue.
Another round of federal investigative panel hearings is set to begin Monday.
The shakeup at BP, which owned the well that blew out on April 20 and was leasing the rig that exploded, didn't end with Hayward. This week, Hayward's replacement — Bob Dudley, the first American to ever head the British oil giant — fired the executive responsible for deepwater wells like the one that blew out in the Gulf and announced a new unit to police safety practices throughout the company.
Dudley will be operating with a thin margin for error while trying to move BP past the Gulf disaster. Besides covering a financial tab that's around $10 billion and growing, Dudley must overcome the adversarial relationship between BP and Washington and the citizens of the Gulf left behind by Hayward. BP has said it plans to recommend Hayward for a non-executive board position at its Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.
Industry insiders agree Dudley will need patience and imagination to succeed. Good lawyers and good luck will also help.
BP has to be perfect in the safety arena. That's no simple task for a company that drills for oil on every continent except Antarctica. Another mistake could jeopardize business in the U.S., where BP has 40 percent of its oil and gas reserves.
And just because of the recommitment to safety, it doesn't mean BP won't be taking risks in the future. Industrywide, offshore drilling is going into deeper and deeper waters and into politically unstable areas of the world.
Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral, stepped aside as head of the national incident command overseeing the government's response to the oil spill. Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft succeeds him.
Both moves had already been announced, but they became official on Friday. Allen has said the timing was a coincidence.
Allen had always said he planned to go at sometime, and he wanted the transition to come at a time when the response to the disaster had shifted from shutting down the runaway well to recovery from the disaster.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil being released from BP's well a mile beneath the Gulf. The well gushed for three months before being capped and then permanently sealed in September.
The legacy of the oil spill, meanwhile, is still being written.
BP faces tens of billions of dollars in liabilities on top of the more than $11 billion it has already spent responding to the crisis and on top of the $20 billion it has agreed to set aside for a Gulf victims' compensation fund.
It plans to sell $30 billion in assets to help cover costs related to the spill. The company says more sweeping changes are expected.
Investors don't care about the personnel and restructuring details as long as BP rebounds financially, said David Battersby, investment manager at Redmayne Bentley Stockbrokers.
"We realize that some heads have to roll," he said. "The chief executive officer is gone and new people have to be found. Whatever will fix the problem. People don't care about who is in charge, they just care about the share price."
Allen's steadiness during the crisis was noted by many observers. He often ended his responses at news conferences with a crisp question for each reporter: "Was that responsive?"
He is still pushing for improvements in the deepwater drilling arena, and has proposed the idea of allowing in the future a third party from industry that would not be beholden to the polluter's profit margins to run the cleanup.
By law, BP had a major role in responding and cleaning up — and paying for it.
Allen has acknowledged that the public and even political leaders were confused about who was in charge. He blamed a 20-year-old law that he said may need to be changed to allow a third party from the oil industry to coordinate cleanup. It would be up to Congress to take up the suggestion, and there has been no movement so far.
Katz reported from London.