Robert Dudley, who took the helm at BP plc late last week, on Wednesday ousted the long-time exploration and production (E&P) chief and launched a global safety division as part of a sweeping restructuring of the company’s safety and risk management practices.

Dudley, the first American to lead the London-based major, assumed the CEO role on Friday (see NGI, Aug. 2). He joined BP in 1998 when the company merged with Amoco, and he had run the BP unit responsible for cleanup operations and compensation programs following the Macondo well blowout in April in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM).

E&P chief Andy Inglis, who some considered next in line for the top job at BP, is leaving the company at the end of the year, Dudley said. Inglis also is stepping down as a BP director on Oct. 31. Going forward, the E&P division would be split into three units: exploration, development and production. Three different executives would lead the units and report directly to Dudley.

Safety and Operations chief Mark Bly, who led the four-month internal investigation of the Macondo well explosion, was tapped to lead the new global safety unit. Bly’s report on the investigation, issued last month, determined that a “sequence of failures involving a number of different parties led to the explosion and fire” (see NGI, Sept. 13).

The restructuring moves are “the first and most urgent steps in a program I am putting in place to rebuild trust in BP…the trust of our customers, of governments, of our employees and of the world at large,” said Dudley.

The changes are “where I believe we most clearly need to act…with safety and risk management our most urgent priority,” he said, adding that “there are lessons for us relating to the way we operate, the way we organize our company and the way we manage risk.”

In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Dudley said BP needed a “fast evolution, not revolution” to right the ship. “BP is a company that is coming back from a near-death experience.”

The global safety division’s goals are to improve risk management and safety, and to review how the company manages agreements with contractors. The division would be “powerful,” and “designed to strengthen safety and risk management across the BP Group.” In addition, the division would be “responsible for ensuring that all operations are carried out to common standards.”

Rebuilding trust is a key goal of the restructuring plan, said Dudley.

“That trust is vital to the restoration of shareholder value which has been so adversely affected by recent events,” he said. “The changes are in areas where I believe we most clearly need to act, with safety and risk management our most urgent priority.”

The shake-up also is to include a review of how BP creates incentives for business performance, to determine how the company can encourage staff to improve safety and risk management.

“There are still difficult challenges ahead but we have assembled a strong and able new team and are developing a robust strategy to deal with them and to deliver our ultimate goal — the restoration of shareholder value,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

BP’s board also announced last week that it would use assets in the GOM as collateral for the $20 billion compensation fund set up for those affected by the Macondo spill. An “overriding” royalty interest has been pledged by BP for the production of the Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog, Great White and Mars, Ursa and Na Kika platforms, which operate in the GOM.

The collateral arrangement is an incentive for the federal government to allow BP to continue to operate in the U.S. offshore, Dudley said. The cost of the spill had climbed to $11.2 billion as of late last week. BP already has paid $3 billion into the spill fund and it plans to add $2 billion by the end of this year and add another $1.25 billion in each quarter thereafter through 2013.

“The pledging of these assets underscores our commitments to the Trust, which we set up to pay all legitimate claims arising from the tragedy,” said Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America Inc. and the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

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