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BP chief executive Dudley stepping down

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London (AFP)

BP said Friday that Chief Executive Bob Dudley, who oversaw the energy giant's response to and recovery from the devastating Gulf of Mexico 2010 oil spill disaster, will leave next year.

American Dudley, 64, will step down on February 4, 2020 and retire at the end March, the company said in a statement, adding he will be succeeded by upstream division boss Bernard Looney, from Ireland.

The announcement brings the curtain down on Dudley's 40-year career at the London-listed energy major, eventually steering it back into profit following the deadly oil spill tragedy that badly damaged its reputation.

BP clocked up vast losses on clean-up and compensation costs and was forced to axe thousands of jobs and sell billions of dollars of assets to meet a total bill of about $70 billion.

Dudley was parachuted into BP in October 2010 after his predecessor, Briton Tony Hayward, was forced to quit amid heavy criticism of his handling of the disaster.

- 'Most challenging time' -

"Bob... was appointed chief executive at probably the most challenging time in BP's history," Chairman Helge Lund said on Friday.

"During his tenure he has led the recovery from the Deepwater Horizon accident, re-built BP as a stronger, safer company and helped it re-earn its position as one of the leaders of the energy sector.

"This company -- and indeed the whole industry -- owes him a debt of gratitude."

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana while drilling a well 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below sea level on April 20.

Eleven rig workers were killed in the blast that caused 134 million gallons (507 million litres) of oil to spew into Gulf waters.

It took 87 days to cap the out of control well, and the oil slick stretched across an area the size of Virgina, blackening beaches across five US states and hitting tourism and fishing.

The spill was one of the worst environmental disasters to strike the United States.

- 'Transformational era' -

Looney, 49, joined BP in 1991 as a drilling engineer and rose through the ranks to lead its upstream division, which comprises exploration and production.

"Bernard has all the right qualities to lead us through this transformational era," Lund said.

"He has deep experience in the energy sector, has risen through the ranks of BP, and has consistently delivered strong safety, operational and financial performance.

"He is an authentic, progressive leader, with a passion for purpose and people and a clear sense of what BP must do to thrive through the energy transition."

Under Dudley, BP opened a new chapter in the United States in 2018 with the $10.5-billion purchase of mining giant BHP Billiton's US shale oil and gas operations.

The landmark deal, which has energised BP's output, was financed by asset sales.

The outgoing CEO said Friday that it had been "the privilege of a lifetime to serve this company and work in this industry for the past four decades," adding he was "enormously proud of all the things we have achieved together to provide energy for the world".

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