Battered BP boss hands over oil spill duties

Embattled BP boss Tony Hayward handed off the daily management of the Gulf of Mexico spill, as the British energy firm was assailed by its partner for "reckless conduct.

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said chief executive Hayward, a Briton, was handing over the running of the containment efforts to another top official, Bob Dudley, an American.

"Right after the explosion (Hayward) went out there and he has been leading the response ever since," Svanberg told Sky News. "I think everyone believed it to be something we could deal with faster, then he would come back.

"And now he's been around for eight weeks, he's now handing over the daily operations to Bob Dudley, and he will be more home, and be there and be here," he told the British broadcaster.

The handover had been announced earlier this month, but no timing had been given, and Svanberg's announcement came a day after Hayward was pilloried by US lawmakers investigating the April explosion which destroyed a BP-leased rig off Louisiana.

BP also reported progress on drilling the first of two relief wells to permanently plug the massive leak spewing tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said the first relief well was now 200 feet (61 meters) from the ruptured well as it heads towards the bottom of the sea floor.

But officials cautioned that despite the relief well's proximity to the existing well and the fact that BP is some 11 days ahead of schedule, the firm still needs until early August to finish the work before heavy drilling fluids can be pumped into the existing well.

Meanwhile, a co-owner with BP in the well, Anadarko Petroleum, said BP should pay the costs of cleanup because of its "reckless" conduct, prompting a testy exchange between the two firms.

In a statement, Anadarko chairman and chief executive Jim Hackett said: "The mounting evidence clearly demonstrates that this tragedy was preventable and the direct result of BP's reckless decisions and actions."

"BP's behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful misconduct and thus affect the obligations of the parties under the operating agreement," the Anadarko chief said.

BP said in a separate statement that it "strongly disagrees with these allegations" from Anadarko and "will not allow the allegations to diminish its commitment to the Gulf Coast region."

BP said that Anadarko "is refusing to accept responsibility for oil spill removal costs and damages" despite a written operating agreement stating that "the parties would share the costs of operations, including the cost to clean up any spill" from the well.

The news capped a nightmare week for the British firm which has left its public image in tatters, seen its shares rocked on the stock market and its top executives hauled to the White House.

To the frustration and anger of a House of Representatives panel, Hayward repeatedly refused to be drawn on the causes of the explosion and whether there had been any negligence on BP's part, drawing lawmakers' ridicule and scorn.

US experts believe between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil are spewing into the Gulf every day from the ruptured wellhead, and creeping ashore in four southern US states, shutting down the fishing industry and sullying tourist beaches.

BP executives agreed after talks with President Barack Obama this week to set up a 20-billion-dollar escrow fund to help pay for the clean-up and compensation claims from Gulf residents facing economic ruin.

In a sign of some progress, officials said Friday BP was now containing more of the spill as it works towards to capping it for good.

"In the 24-hour period ending at midnight last night, we were able to recover 25,000 barrels of oil," Thad Allen, the US Coast Guard admiral coordinating the US response, told reporters.

Allen said experts estimate the flow to be "right now, the mid-30s -- I think is the most probable -- and as high as 60."

But in more bad news for BP, a top credit agency slashed its creditworthiness because of the "worsening impact" of the disaster on its finances.

Moody's Investors Service cut BP's credit rating by three notches to A2 from Aa2 following a similar move by Fitch and Standard & Poor's this week.

Meanwhile, the intergovernmental International Energy Agency (IEA) warned against following the US lead and imposing a moratorium on offshore drilling.

Global oil output could slide by up to 900,000 barrels a day from projected levels for 2015 if oil producing countries take their cue from the six-month moratorium imposed by Obama in the wake of the disaster.

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