Kiran Stacey Bob Dudley: BP is not quitting the US or deepwater

Bob Dudley has been addressing the CBI today, making his first speech outside BP since becoming CEO last month.

His tone was humble and gracious. He said:

So it’s a pleasure as well as an honour to be invited to speak with you today.

It’s also humbling, not least because of the circumstances in which I stepped into this role – a tragic accident in which 11 people lost their lives and an oil spill that has impacted livelihoods, businesses and the environment.

But his message was essentially robust: we are not budging, either from the US or deepwater in general.

Here was his message (for a largely British audience) on the relationship between the US and BP:

There has been much comment in recent months suggesting the US might turn its back on BP or BP could leave the US. I am confident that neither of these propositions is true.

Contrary to what is sometimes said, BP is not widely seen over there as “British Petroleum”: we’re part of the American community.

And he admitted how hard the company had been lobbying in Washington:

I believe it would be fair to say that BP now has more points of contact across the US government than any other company.

As for deepwater, he was similarly uncompromising:

One of the most important sources of that growth will be finding and producing oil and gas in the deep waters of the world’s oceans.

That’s why the response to what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico matters so much. We – together with the rest of the industry and our regulators around the world – simply have to ensure that public confidence in deepwater drilling is restored.

Interestingly there seemed to be some veiled criticism for his own company’s PR response to the spill – not that it was not sensitive enough, but that it might have gone too far in trying to appease the public by showing the spill on a live video feed:

I recall registering two particularly vivid sensations from this period.

First, an overwhelming public sense of frustration over the failure of efforts to stop the flow, visible in real-time on TV.

But did he make his own PR gaffe? In one sentence he came close to suggesting that the threat to BP was a bigger crisis than the initial spill:

From a terrible accident and environmental spill grew a corporate crisis that threatened the very existence of our company – a major loss of value and loss of trust.

The comment has not been picked up so far, and it’s doubtful many will make a big deal out of it. Dudley’s charm will make sure reporters and the public stay focused on his efforts to restore his company’s reputation.

But one wonders if the reaction would have been different if Tony Hayward had made the same remark?