- Associated Press - Friday, June 18, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP’s chairman said Friday that CEO Tony Hayward is on his way out as the company’s point man on the Gulf oil spill crisis, a day after Hayward enraged members of Congress by offering few answers about how the environmental disaster happened. It was unclear when the switch will occur.

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Britain’s Sky News television on Friday that Hayward “is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to (BP Managing Director) Bob Dudley.” BP had said this month that Dudley would take over the long-term response to the spill once the leak was stopped, but millions of gallons continue to spew and that milestone remains months away.

Svanberg’s statement sowed confusion, with other BP officials saying Hayward remains in charge. Spokesman Toby Odone said “Nothing has changed” since the earlier announcement regarding Dudley, and spokesman Tristan Vanhegan said the “board still has confidence in Tony.”

BP’s move overshadowed some positive news in the cleanup effort. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced earlier Friday that a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity.

And the system will soon grow. By late June, the oil giant hopes it can keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from hitting the ocean.

But the massive leak, set off by an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers nearly two months ago, will not be stopped completely until at least August. BP has been hammered for its response, in part because of comments by Hayward that Gulf Coast residents horrified by the spill consider insensitive.

Hayward shocked residents in slick-hit Louisiana by saying, “I would like my life back.” He was quoted by the Times of London suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims — a statement that gained significance Friday when a House committee said BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted. President Barack Obama suggested he would fire Hayward if he could.

On Thursday, Hayward told lawmakers on a U.S. House investigations panel that he was out of the loop on decisions surrounding the blown well. Both Democrats and Republicans were infuriated when he asserted, “I’m not stonewalling.”

“It is clear that Tony has made remarks that have upset people,” said Svanberg, who made a misstep of his own this week when he said BP cares “about the small people.” But he added that Hayward “is also a man who has probably been on 100 hours of TV time and maybe 500.”

Dudley, an American-born oil man with more than 30 years in the industry, has been BP’s managing director since 2009. His responsibilities include broad oversight of the company’s activities in the Americas and Asia, and earlier this month he was named head of the company’s disaster management unit.

Svanberg told Sky News that no matter who is heading BP’s oil spill response, “as long as we don’t close the well and take care of this, there will be criticisms about many things.”

Many Gulf Coast residents and business owners who have been economically devastated by the spill are still waiting for compensation from BP. The House Judiciary Committee said data it has collected shows that BP has paid $71 million out of an estimated $600 million in outstanding claims as of Tuesday. It based the figure on data it collected from BP’s daily reports to the Coast Guard on claims and on discussions with BP.

The committee said not one of the 717 claims for bodily injury, or the 175 claims for diminished home property value, have been paid.

“I remain concerned that BP is stiffing too many victims and shortchanging others,” said the committee’s chairman, Michigan Democrat John Conyers.

BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an e-mail that the company had paid out $95 million as of Friday, and it had written about 30,000 checks to settle about half of the 63,000 claims it has received.

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