By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A04
BP gave investors a glimpse of its future Tuesday, one that will feature a new American chief executive, slimmed-down operations, and $32.2 billion or more in payments to clean up and compensate people affected by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In announcing its second-quarter earnings, the London-based oil giant tried to walk a line between reassuring bankers and investors about its vast assets and financial strength, and avoiding the appearance of being a rich, powerful company insensitive to the plight of the Gulf Coast.
"We have much to do to make it right," BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said in a conference call with investment analysts Tuesday, referring to the spill. But he added that BP's directors are also "determined to restore value to our shareholders."
In mapping out plans to pay for damage and cleanup, BP said it will sell $25 billion to $30 billion in assets over 18 months, shedding about 10 percent of its oil and natural gas output. That should enable it to shrink its outstanding debt and reinstate dividends next year for shareholders while still covering payments to the massive escrow fund for spill damage claims.
"It's still going to be the second-largest oil and gas producer among international oil companies," said Fadel Gheit, oil analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. "Smaller than Exxon Mobil but bigger than Royal Dutch Shell."
In a sign of how difficult it will be for BP to turn the page on the crisis, however, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) lashed out Tuesday at the company for concealing its estimates of the rate at which oil had flowed into the gulf. Markey released a letter from BP Chief Operating Officer Douglas Suttles to the Coast Guard in early July in which Suttles estimated that oil was pouring forth at a rate of 53,000 barrels (2.23 million gallons) a day.
The BP briefing for investment analysts was a somber one, as Svanberg announced that the board had picked Robert Dudley, a BP managing director and former Amoco executive, to replace chief executive Tony Hayward, a British geologist who had spent his entire career with BP. Dudley, 54, who grew up in Mississippi and spent summers boating with his family in the Gulf of Mexico, will become the first foreigner to lead the century-old company.
"Today is a very sad day for me," Hayward said. "I love the company and everything it stands for." He said, however, he realized that for BP "to move forward, particularly in the United States, it should do so under new leadership."
Hayward's compensation package includes a pension valued at about $17 million and a severance of $1.6 million, or a year's salary.
Without costs from the spill, the company would have declared a profit of $5.6 billion for the second quarter. Spill charges turned that into a $17.2 billion loss.
The appointment of Dudley, who will take charge Oct. 1, comes at a turning point in the calamity. After gushing for three months, the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been capped for the past 12 days. Kenneth Feinberg, the master for the $20 billion escrow fund, is taking over the task of scrutinizing and processing claims and proposing settlements.
Still, Dudley's task will be immense. Congress is set to raise liability limits for oil spills and to impose tougher regulations on offshore drilling. Some lawmakers want to prevent BP, the largest producer of oil and gas in the United States, from acquiring new federal leases. The Justice Department is investigating criminal charges against the company, which could complicate its ability to do business with the federal government or bid for leases.
Asked how BP would be viewed in five years, Dudley said in "a perfect world" people would realize that "BP met its commitments to restore the Gulf Coast and as a result of that BP has restored its reputation" and it would be allowed to grow its U.S. business. He said, "Five years from now, I hope that people look back and say that was a quite incredible response to a quite tragic accident."
Although BP's provision for claims and cleanup is unprecedented in size, some analysts questioned whether it is big enough. If found to be "grossly negligent" in the way it was drilling the Macondo well that exploded on April 20, BP could wind up paying an additional $12 billion in fines alone and nearly twice as much overall, said Gheit of Oppenheimer.
BP's chief financial officer, Byron Grote, said that in calculating the size of anticipated federal fines under the Clean Water Act, BP assumed that it was not guilty of negligence. By doing so, it pegged its fines at $1,100 per barrel spilled. If found negligent, BP would have to pay $4,300 a barrel. It would also have to pay 100 percent of the fines, while Anadarko Petroleum and Mitsui, its partners in the lease, would not have to share the cost of the penalties.
Critics in Congress decried the company's failure to say precisely how much oil it thinks has spilled into the gulf. Hayward said only that BP had used a number around the middle of published estimates, which most recently have been 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.
In addition, BP's financial statement reflected an offsetting tax benefit from lower earnings. Because the reserve for claims is deducted from profit, BP will not pay $9.9 billion in taxes that it would have otherwise owed.
Bracing for unknown costs, BP also said that it would shrink its outstanding debt to $10 billion to $15 billion, from its current $23.2 billion.
Dudley assumed his new title with modesty. He said he has the "greatest respect" for Hayward.
"I did not seek out this job," he said in a conference call with journalists. "I was asked to step into these shoes."
But in Washington, some people were ready to bid good riddance to Hayward, who had aggravated public anger by saying he wanted his "life back" and by going sailing on his yacht on his return to England after weeks on the gulf coast and in Washington.
"While it's now happy sailing for Tony Hayward, rough conditions will persist in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come because of his failed leadership," Markey said. "The new leaders of BP will have an uphill climb to correct the legacy left by Hayward, indelibly inked by the disaster in the gulf."