LONDON — The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will be stopped, BP's chief executive said in an interview broadcast Thursday, although he was unable to give an estimate of when that might happen or how much it will ultimately cost.
Tony Hayward told the British Broadcasting Corp. that it was too early to judge the cost of stopping the leak, mopping up the oil and compensating claims for damages.
Hayward called it a battle: "We will ultimately win it because ultimately one of the interventions to stop the leak will stop the leak."
BP is now preparing to attempt to place a funnel – a 100-ton concrete and steel structure – over the leak 50 miles (80 kms) from the coast of Louisiana to contain the spill and allow the oil to be pumped to shore.
The leak threatens wide areas of commercially and environmentally important shoreline in the southeastern United States. Asked whether this could be the most damaging oil accident ever, Hayward said "it is clearly a very serious situation."
Concern about the cost and the damage to BP's reputation has driven the company's stock sharply 15 percent lower since April 20, when an explosion killed 11 workers aboard the oil rig, which sank two days later.
"I am absolutely confident that we can bounce back. We will bounce back stronger as a consequence of this, not weaker," Hayward said from Houston.
"I think I have said all along that the company will be judged not on the basis of an accident that, you know, frankly was not our accident," Hayward said.
He said "the real issue is the failure of the safety equipment," a component called the blowout preventer which is not managed by BP.
"That is a piece of equipment owned and operated by Transocean, maintained by Transocean; they are absolutely accountable for its safety and reliability, and they report to the regulatory authority for its safety.
"So what we're doing is responding to a tragic accident, and as I've said we will be judged by our response."
President Barack Obama's administration has expressed impatience with BP's efforts to stop the leak. "Our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last week, using the corporate name that BP last used a decade ago.
"There has understandably been some emotion and rhetoric around this," Hayward said.
"What I would say is that the relationship and the working together between BP and the various federal agencies is extraordinarily good. I spend a lot of time with – at the highest level, but as importantly lower down – seeing the BP team and the Coast Guard team and the EPA all working hand in hand to deal with a very difficult situation."