BP’s Incoming Boss Ready to Scale Down Gulf Clean-up Operation

Attempt at static kill to plug the well expected on Tuesday

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by Andrew Clark, Guardian

As the visible oil in the Gulf of Mexico dwindles, the incoming boss of BP has said it could be time to scale down the vast operation to clean up the damage wreaked by the company’s Deepwater Horizon spill. Bob Dudley, who was named this week to replace BP’s much maligned chief executive Tony Hayward, announced that the company was appointing a former head of the US federal emergency management agency, James Lee Witt, to help recover from the disaster. BP intends to attempt a "static kill" to permanently plug the well with cement on Tuesday.

Although he told reporters that BP remained fully committed to a long-term restoration of the tarnished environment, Dudley told reporters in Mississippi that it was "not too soon for a scale-back" in clean-up efforts: "You probably don’t need to see so many hazmat [protective] suits on the beaches."

Virtually no new oil has leaked into the sea since BP installed a new cap on its breached Macondo well two weeks ago and some US commentators have expressed surprise at the speed with which oil appears to be disappearing from the surface of the water — a report in Time magazine asked whether the damage had been exaggerated.

But tar balls continue to emerge from the water and environmentalists remain concerned about underwater plumes of oil, not to mention the economic harm caused to shrimp fishing, tourism workers and local businesses.

Wary of his predecessor’s public relations gaffes, Dudley made no effort to downplay the problem. "Anyone who thinks this isn’t a catastrophe must be far away from it," he said.

BP named Dudley as its new head effective from October, pushing out Hayward, who complained in an interview with Friday’s Wall Street Journal that he had been unfairly vilified. "I became a villain for doing the right thing," said Hayward, who described BP’s spill response as a model of corporate social responsibility. "But I understand people find it easier to vilify an individual more than a company."

Hayward enraged many Americans by saying that he wanted his life back after working on the spill for so long. Meanwhile, the actress Sandra Bullock became the latest disgruntled celebrity entangled in an oil spill controversy as she asked to be removed from a petition and video calling for national funding of Gulf restoration after discovering that the campaign was linked to a group called America’s Wetland Foundation, which is partly funded by oil companies.

(Republished with permission of the Guardian)