NEW ORLEANS — It looks like Tony Hayward will finally get his life back after all.
The Associated Press, citing a senior U.S. government official, reported the gaffe-prone Brit is on his way out as CEO of oil giant BP. An announcement could come by sundown today about the fate of the man who enraged scores of frustrated gulf residents by infamously declaring in May: "I'd like my life back."
The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.
It's been more than three months since an offshore drilling rig operated by BP exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the spill. A temporary plug has stopped oil from gushing for more than a week now, but before that the busted well had spewed anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons into the gulf.
The Hayward, 53, was BP's most visible figure for weeks after the explosion. But he faded from the scene after several tone-deaf comments made people even angrier at the company than they had been.
He minimized the environmental effects of the spill, questioned the existence of oil plumes identified by scientists, and enraged members of Congress when he said he was out of the loop on decisions at the well before the explosion. Another goof: In mid June, as live video showed oil gushing into the gulf, Hayward went home to England — and attended a yacht race.
"He seems like a pretty self-absorbed person, so I'm not surprised to hear he would walk away in the middle of all this," said Patrick Shay, 43, who sat on a porch swing at his cottage in Grand Isle on Sunday. His front yard is filled with small, white crosses, each bearing the name of sea life or way of life the oil spill has killed. "If anything it will help. They need to get him out of the way and get this cleaned up."
It's unclear who will replace Hayward or when it will happen, but one of the most likely successors is BP Managing Director Bob Dudley, who is overseeing the British company's spill response and would be BP's first American CEO. He took the lead on oil spill duties after Hayward was pilloried for the yacht episode.
Hayward "became a sacrificial lamb in a politically charged world," Oppenheimer & Co. senior analyst Fadel Gheit said.
Dudley would be well suited to take over, Gheit said, describing him as even-tempered and a good delegator. But he added, "I'm not sure if removing Tony Hayward is going to throw BP's problems away."
Hayward joined BP in 1982 as a geologist and makes $1.6 million a year as the company's head, according to BP's annual report. In 2009, he received a performance bonus plus other remuneration, bringing his total pay package to more than $6 million.
A change in leadership will not change the mammoth tasks ahead of BP, from stopping the offshore oil gusher for good, to cleaning up the millions of gallons that have already leaked, to paying billions in claims — all while defending its stock price and repairing its battered reputation.
The company has already spent roughly $4 billion on its response to the crisis. The final tally could be in the tens of billions of dollars.
Crews trying to plug the leaky well for good had to stop work late last week because of the threat from Tropical Storm Bonnie, but the effort was back on track as skies cleared Sunday.
A drill rig was expected to reconnect around midnight to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well, and drilling could resume in the next few days.
Completion of the relief well that is the best chance to permanently stop the oil now looks possible by mid August, but retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the spill, said he wouldn't hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.