CHICAGO | Bob Dudley said he isn't immediately looking to retire as chief executive of the once embattled energy giant BP PLC.
But he said his legacy with the company will be based on his ability to "constantly" restore the company to safe and profitable operation and restore the public's trust in the firm.
"Whether I like it or not, that will definitely be part of it," Dudley said.
Dudley, who became group chief executive of London-based BP on Oct. 1, 2010, spoke to more than 250 people Friday at an Economic Club of Chicago luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
Dudley reaffirmed the company is on track in 2013 to complete its multibillion-dollar modernization of its Whiting Refinery, which Dudley toured Thursday. The project will increase efficiency and boost output, allowing the refinery to handle heavier crudes such as those produced in Canada.
More important than money, Dudley said the trust BP lost as a result of the Gulf oil spill in 2010 has been difficult to overcome. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil was released in the Gulf of Mexico in a 153-day span. After the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, 11 people died, dozens were injured, and thousands of people's lives were affected in the Gulf.
Dudley, who led BP's oil spill response, said the company has had to "Respond. Reinforce. Restore." It has also re-evaluated its standards for safety, spill response and drilling.
He said the company faced significant challenges in engineering trying to stop the oil flow from the well about a mile below sea level, and coordinating the flow of information and work between federal, state and local government agencies.
Dudley said the company is in the "final few miles of active cleanup," after working to clean about 635 miles of shoreline. BP has spent more than $21 billion on the oil spill response, cleanup efforts and claims so far. The company said it has set aside $20 billion for economic and environmental restoration projects and will make $500 million available in the next decade to fund scientific research into the Gulf ecosystem. The company also has returned to operating in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP is positioning itself to succeed in the U.S. again and as a whole, and Dudley said it is shedding doubts whether the company could survive
"They said we would have to rebrand ourselves, reduce our presence here, or even exit the U.S. market altogether," Dudley said. "But none of those options would have been acceptable to us."
Dudley said it was an honor to return to the Chicago area a few blocks away from where he started his career with Amoco Corp. in 1979 as an economic analyst for the company's international division. The 56-year-old Dudley grew up in Hinsdale, Ill.
BP has more than 13,000 employees and contractors in Illinois and northern Indiana and its U.S. roots are deeper than those in England by more than 40 years.
"We are deeply committed to this region and to the United States," Dudley said.