NEW ORLEANS - The American picked to lead oil giant BP as it struggles to restore its finances and oil spill-stained reputation pledged yesterday that his company will remain committed to the Gulf region even after the busted well is sealed.
Robert Dudley will become BP Plc's first non-British chief executive, the company said as it reported a record quarterly $17-billion loss and set aside $32.2 billion to cover costs from the spill.
BP ended weeks of speculation by confirming that gaffe-prone Tony Hayward will step down Oct. 1. The London-based company is seeking to reassure both the public and investors that it is learning lessons from the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
"We are taking a hard look at ourselves, what we do and how we do it," BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told investors during a webcast presentation on the company's earnings. "What we learn will have implications for our ways of working, our strategy and our governance."
Svanberg said the company's priority was to stop the Gulf leak permanently and then to clean up miles of spoiled waters and beaches and compensate people whose livelihoods have been lost because of the accident.
But he added that the company was determined to restore value to shareholders after a 35 percent, or $60-billion, drop in market value to around $116 billion since the explosion.
Under U.S. political pressure, the company also axed dividends to shareholders this year. In New York, BP stock slumped about 1.8 percent to $37.95 in afternoon trading after BP announced it would sell $30 billion in assets to help pay potential costs related to the spill.
Analysts said they were disappointed at how many assets BP was willing to sell and thought its cost estimate is on the conservative side.
BP made its estimate on the assumption that it won't be deemed "grossly negligent" in its handling of the well. If it is, then BP won't be able to ask its partners to help pay for the cleanup, and federal fines will go up.
"The penalties are obviously going to be more than what they're saying," Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit said.
Dudley, BP's managing director, was brought in to oversee the spill response after Hayward was vilified for a series of ill-timed moves, including saying that he would like his life back and attending a yacht race off the coast of England as Gulf residents struggled to cope with the spill.
He spent some of his childhood in Mississippi and worked for 20 years at Amoco Corp., which merged with BP in 1998. He lost out to Hayward on the chief executive slot three years ago.