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U.S. official says BP to replace chief

NEW ORLEANS - BP chief executive Tony Hayward - who incensed many on the Gulf Coast by saying he wanted his life back as they struggled with the fallout from the company's massive oil spill - will be replaced, a senior U.S. government official said Sunday.

The official was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.

The government official did not know who would replace Hayward or when. One of the most likely successors is an American, BP managing director Bob Dudley, who is overseeing the British company's spill response.

Oppenheimer & Co. senior analyst Fadel Gheit said in an interview Sunday that it was too bad Hayward's career could be derailed by the spill, but "unfortunately he became a sacrificial lamb in a politically charged world." Dudley would be well-suited to take over, Gheit said, describing him as even-tempered and a good delegator.

Earlier yesterday, BP spokesman Toby Odone seemed to downplay media speculation about Hayward's departure, saying he "remains BP's chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management." BP's board would have to approve a change in company leadership.

An official announcement could come as early as Monday.

It's been more than three months since an offshore drilling rig operated by BP exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the spill. A temporary plug has stopped oil from gushing for more than a week now, but before that the busted well had spewed an estimated 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf. The company has already spent roughly $4 billion on its response to the crisis. The final tally could be in the tens of billions of dollars.

Since the explosion, Hayward has made several highly publicized gaffes. Among them going to a yacht race while oil washed up on Gulf shores, and uttering the now-infamous "I'd like my life back" line.

News that Hayward might depart came as no surprise to people living along the Gulf. In New Orleans, Chris Hearn, 23, a security guard, said what's important is getting the oil stopped permanently. "It doesn't matter who's in charge," he said. "They just need to get it cleaned up because it's affecting all of us down here."

Crews trying to plug the leaky well for good had to stop work late last week because of the threat from Tropical Storm Bonnie, but the effort was back on track as skies cleared Sunday.A drill rig is expected to reconnect at around midnight to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well, and drilling could resume in the next few days.

Completion of the relief well that is the best chance to permanently stop the oil now looks possible by mid-August, but retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the spill, said he wouldn't hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.

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