LONDON — Former BP PLC chief Tony Hayward has acknowledged that the company was unprepared for the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the media frenzy it spawned, and said the firm came close to financial disaster as its credit sources evaporated.
In an interview with the BBC broadcast Tuesday, Hayward said the company's contingency plans were inadequate and "we were making it up day to day."
"What was going on was some extraordinary engineering," he told the broadcaster in an hour-long program devoted to the spill. "But when it was played out in the full glare of the media as it was, of course, it looked like fumbling and incompetence."
An April 20 explosion aboard a Gulf oil rig killed 11 workers and kicked off the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Hayward said BP was "not prepared to deal with the intensity of the media scrutiny" it faced as millions of barrels of oil poured into the ocean and washed up on shore.
Hayward left his post last month after taking much of the flak for BP's poor public handling of the disaster. Gaffes, including his statement that "I want my life back," were ridiculed in the U.S. media and seized on by critics of BP.
Hayward said he was "pretty angry" at the personal vilification.
"If I had done a degree at RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) rather than a degree in geology, I may have done better, but I'm not certain it would've changed the outcome," he said.
He defended his much-criticized decision to take part in a yacht race with his family at the height of the crisis, saying he had not seen his son for three months and had only been aboard for six hours.
"I'm not certain I'd do anything different," Hayward said.
He said BP had found itself unable to borrow from international investors during the spill crisis, threatening its finances. He said that before a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in June, "the capital markets were effectively closed to BP."
"We were not able to borrow in the capital markets, either short- or medium-term debt at all, " he said. "It was a classic financial crisis issue."
Hayward's successor, Bob Dudley, told the program that "these were frightening days" for BP.
"With a company the size of BP, its reputation, what it does – you almost can't quite believe how close you are" to financial disaster, Dudley said. "Bank of America called – wouldn't buy crude from us. Suppliers were asking for money up front. This was a very unusual environment for BP. It was a very, very intense period."
Dudley and Hayward also detailed their interactions with the White House, whose anti-BP statements Hayward in part blamed for pushing the company to the brink of disaster. But he described the June 16 meeting with Obama – during which BP agreed to set up a $20 billion fund for victims of the Gulf oil spill and suspend its dividend – as civil.
"It wasn't confrontational, it wasn't aggressive. It was practical and workmanlike," Hayward said. He added that the meeting also yielded what he called an "almost unspoken agreement" that the White House would cool its rhetoric.
Dudley used the program to defend the company's safety record, saying that a series of disasters – including the deadly 2005 explosion at BP's refinery in Texas City, the near-sinking of one of its flagship rigs a few months later and the huge oil spill in Alaska in 2006 – were not related.
"The company has always had this strong, strong ethos around safety," Dudley said. "It's also had a business model that drives for performance. And we've got to continue to find that right balance."
Raphael G. Satter contributed to this report.