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BP vows ultimate effort

In Boston, executive says massive ocean spill ‘will change offshore oil industry forever’

By D.C. Denison
Globe Staff / May 7, 2010

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A somber senior official from oil giant BP PLC told 300 Boston business and political leaders yesterday that the company is going all out to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We will do whatever it takes to get the job done in Louisiana,’’ said Robert Dudley, executive vice president in charge of BP’s operations in the Americas and Asia.

Dudley addressed the Boston College Chief Executives’ Club of Boston, giving a detailed update of the company’s efforts to contain the giant oil slick caused by the explosion two weeks ago of a BP leased oil rig 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

He told the luncheon crowd that the ongoing effort is “the largest oil spill response in history.’’

In his remarks, Dudley did not try to downplay the seriousness of the spill. “This event will change the offshore oil industry forever, around the world,’’ he said.

Yet because “the world is thirsty for oil,’’ Dudley did not predict an abrupt end to offshore drilling.

Instead, Dudley said, “the industry needs to step back and figure out what happened,’’ and governmental organizations will have to “consider the trade-offs’’ before they proceed with new offshore exploration.

BP, based in London, is one of the world’s largest oil companies.

Dudley said that BP will compensate fishermen affected by the oil spill. “We are going to meet our obligations for justifiable claims,’’ he said.

Saying “our very best people are working on this,’’ Dudley described the “three concurrent approaches’’ that the company is pursuing to contain the damage: using robotic vehicles to seal off the leaks; lowering a large containment chamber over the blown-off well; and drilling a relief well.

Dudley said the company would be lowering the containment dome within 24 hours if the weather is favorable, and that BP should know within a week whether the containment chamber will work. At this point, he admitted, it is untested at the depth at which it will be deployed.

After his prepared remarks, Dudley was questioned by, among others, former Massachusetts congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, chairman of Citizens Energy Corp., who challenged Dudley’s estimate of the eventual environmental damage that may result from the spill. Kennedy said it could be worse than BP is currently predicting.

“There aren’t a lot of words BP can say at this stage about an disaster like this,’’ Kennedy told the Globe before the event.

As for offshore drilling, “It’s all great,’’ Kennedy said, “until it breaks.’’

Bud Ris, the chief executive of the New England Aquarium, also stood up to tell Dudley that his organization had been planning to release 10 sea turtles into the Gulf in the next few weeks, but instead was preparing extra space to host injured turtles from the Gulf region, if necessary.

The event, at the Boston Harbor Hotel, was swelled with a substantial contingent of national and local media. At an impromptu press conference after his talk, Dudley told reporters that BP estimates the failed well will spill 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf until it is capped.

He said that 90 days is the company’s worst-case scenario for containing the spill.

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.