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Tony Hayward says BP was 'not prepared' for the Gulf oil spill

09 November 10 00:07
Tony Hayward

The former boss of BP Tony Hayward has admitted that the company was "not prepared" to deal with fallout over the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the media "feeding frenzy" surrounding it.

In his first interview since resigning Tony Hayward said as the face of BP he had been "demonised and vilified", but he understood why.

The blast on 20 April killed 11 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in US history. It took five months for the well to be completely sealed.

BP was widely condemned for its slow response to the leak, which pumped out around half a million barrels of oil in to the gulf during the first month.

Every day crude oil was still leaking into the ocean, US anger towards BP mounted.

The world looked to BP's leader Mr Hayward for reassurance that the spill would be stopped as quickly as possible to limit the environmental and financial damage.

But he said it was hard to cope under such intense scrutiny.

He told BBC Two's Money Programme special, BP: $30 Billion Blowout: "BP's contingency plans were inadequate. We were making it up day to day.

"What was going on was some extraordinary engineering.

"But when it was played out in the full glare of the media as it was, of course it looked like fumbling and incompetence."

By the end of May, the company's best hopes of plugging the leak rested on pumping heavy drilling fluid down the well - in an operation known as top kill.

"I remember being in the control room in Houston," said Mr Hayward.

"The whole team had assembled, we were all watching the charts, listening to the read-out, and there was an incredible feeling of hope."

But the top kill attempt failed.

'Life-back' gaffe

"If we'd been successful in killing the well in the first week of June, then so many things would've been different.

"Not least I'd probably still be the CEO of BP," he said.

But Mr Hayward's personal remarks and actions enraged residents of the Gulf coast and US politicians. During attempts to clean up the oil, Mr Hayward told journalists that he "wanted his life back".

Two months into the disaster Mr Hayward was called to a hearing in Washington where he was grilled over his handling of the operation.

Two days later, Mr Hayward was seen on a yacht off the Isle of Wight where his son was taking part in a yacht race, which made headlines around the world as a publicity own-goal.

He was criticised by President Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who said the boating incident has "just been part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes".

"To quote Tony Hayward, he's got his life back," he said.

But for the first time Tony Hayward defended his move to take some time off, and said he would do it again.

"I have to confess, at the time I was pretty angry actually.

"I hadn't seen my son for three months, I was on the boat for six hours... I'm not certain I'd do anything different.

"I wanted to see my son," he told the programme.

Anger 'understandable'

President Obama, who was extremely outspoken about Mr Hayward, continually reassured the American public that the cost of the clean-up and compensation would fall to BP.

"The emotion, and anger and frustration was entirely understandable actually," Mr Hayward said.

"The US administration hadn't created this mess, we had."

Despite the criticism, Mr Hayward said that the blame was justifiable.

"I don't feel like I've been made a scapegoat, I recognised the realities of the world we live in.

"In some senses it comes with the patch and you simply have to take the rough with the smooth."

He reflected that his comments about the spill and the reaction to them, contributed to the anger towards him.

"If I had done a degree at Rada [The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] rather than a degree in geology, I may have done better, but I'm not certain it would've changed the outcome," he said.

"But certainly the perception of myself may have been different."

A Money Programme special, BP: $30 Billion Blowout is broadcast on BBC Two on Tuesday, 9 November 2010, at 2100 GMT, or afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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