Dudley Battles to Resurrect BP; City FOCUS

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Byline: Ruth Sunderland

Top financial writer Ruth Sunderland, who returns to the Mail as Associate City Editor, looks at the hard road ahead for BP now that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has finally been killed.

BP has no choice but to change, Bob Dudley told City analysts in recent meetings ahead of his elevation to chief executive of the oil giant next month.

If his predecessor Tony Hayward deserves a booby prize for blundering, then Dudley takes the medal for understatement.

When he settles into his seat at BP's palatial offices in St James's, he will be confronted by one of the most forcity midable in-trays in corporate history.

Even the permanent cap on the Macondo well that pumped oil into the Gulf of Mexico is not quite finished - BP has still not yet put in the final seals so it can be 'plugged and abandoned'.

It expects to do so within weeks, and to begin disbanding some of the 25,000-strong army of people involved in its response to the spill.

But completing the 'kill' operation on the biggest oil disaster in history is only the beginning of Bob Dudley's problems.

His topmost concern is to rebuild trust and confidence in BP, not just with environmentalists but with investors and pension fund members who saw more than [pounds sterling]45bn wiped off the company's value.

Dudley bel ieves the $32bn ([pounds sterling]20.6bn) set aside by his predecessor to cover the eventual costs of the disaster is reasonable, but in truth, the final bill remains unquantifiable.

The cost of the clean-up so far is around $9.5bn ([pounds sterling]6.1bn) and BP has placed $20bn ([pounds sterling]12.9bn) in a special account to cover civil claims.

In an unprecedented move aimed at helping speed up the court process, US district Judge Carl Barbier yesterday approved a plan put forward both by the plaintiffs and the defence to group claims into 'pleading bundles' so the process is not clogged by large numbers of individual cases. The list of inquiries into the disaster is so lengthy even BP insiders struggle to remember them all.

The most significant is the Marine Board investigation, which will resume in October and is due to conclude in spring.

A President's Commission is running to a similar timetable and there are investigations by the Department of Justice and the Chemical Safety Board.

Dudley's biggest dread is that the company will be found guilty of gross negligence, exposing it to potentially ruinous fines and costs. …