Speaking with reporters Wednesday night in Houston, BP plc CEO Tony Hayward offered some candid comments about his company’s response to the unrelenting oil leak at the Macondo well in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) (see Daily GPI, May 11).

“We will fix it,” Hayward told reporters of the oil leak. “I guarantee it. The only question is we do not know when.”

BP’s efforts by late Wednesday to contain the spill included success in dispersing the oil slick on the surface, which has so far prevented large amounts from coming ashore, the CEO said.

Now the London-based producer is “increasingly confident” that it will find a way to seal the faulty blowout preventer, which failed to shut down the well when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in a fireball April 20 and sank at the drill site.

Hayward doesn’t think the incident will prevent offshore drilling to continue in the United States, even with the backlash from politicians and environmentalists.

The near-fatal Apollo 13 moon mission in 1970 “did not stop the space race,” he said. “Neither did the Air France plane last year coming out of Brazil stop the world airline industry flying people around the world. It’s the same for the oil industry.”

The GOM, he reminded reporters, now represents about one-third of U.S. oil and natural gas production.

BP also will overcome its latest troubles, Hayward insisted. He said the company is better able to respond to disasters than it was five years ago before he took over for Lord John Browne.

An explosion in 2005 at BP’s Texas City, TX, refinery led to 15 deaths and huge fines by U.S. officials. BP also has had to deal with regulatory scrutiny over oil leaks in recent years on the Alaska oil pipeline. Those incidents and others led BP to step up safety initiatives and become better prepared, Hayward said.

“In the last four or five years we have made major improvements in safety performance. It has made the company much better,” he said. “Four years ago it could have been very different.”

It is “unwise” to lay blame about the causes of the tragedy until all of the investigations have been completed, he said. “There is a lot of speculation, red herrings and hearsay.”

Asked by reporters if he thought his job could become a casualty, Hayward said, “I don’t at the moment. That, of course, may change. I will be judged by the nature of the response. Investors have so far been very supportive.”

But the BP chief, who once led the producer’s worldwide exploration and production efforts, admitted mistakes in the company’s first response to the incident.

Initially BP refused to compensate Gulf Coast fishermen who could not produce written proof of their normal earnings. BP also faltered, said Hayward, when fishermen who signed up to assist with the relief effort were required to sign agreements limiting BP’s liability in their future claims.

“It was a bit bumpy to get it going,” he said. “We made a few little mistakes early on.” As far as the response effort, “we have tried to be very aggressive on all fronts.”

For now, Hayward is staying in the United States to deal with BP’s response efforts. He has traveled to all of the states that may be affected by the oil spill. And he’s spent hours talking with President Obama’s staff and meeting with affected stakeholders. However, he said he avoids reading newspapers or watching television reports about the oil spill.

“I don’t want my judgment clouded by what is being said about me or BP.”

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