updated 9/30/2009 9:54:07 AM ET 2009-09-30T13:54:07

Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company, said Wednesday that its board has promoted vice chairman John S. Watson to chairman and chief executive.

Watson, 52, will succeed David J. O'Reilly, who is retiring from the company after 41 years, including 10 years as chairman and CEO.

O'Reilly, 62, led two of the company's biggest deals — its 2001 acquisition of Texaco Inc. and its 2005 purchase of Unocal Corp.

That leaves Watson to inherit Chevron's problems in Ecuador, where the oil major continues to be dogged by questions about whether it's responsible for environmental damages in the Amazon rain forest. Ecuadoreans say Texaco dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater from its petroleum operation into unlined waste pits.

Watson joined Chevron in 1980 as a financial analyst. He held financial, analytical and supervisory positions before being elected president of Chevron Canada Ltd. in 1996. He will be replaced as vice chairman by George L. Kirkland, 59, who currently serves as executive vice president of global upstream and gas.

O'Reilly, 62, a native of Dublin, Ireland, joined the company as a process engineer in Chevron Research Co. in 1968 after earning his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from University College in Dublin.

"Under (O'Reilly's) leadership, we have built a project portfolio that is the envy of our industry, grown our profitability and moved our company to the forefront of our industry in safety and reliability," Watson said in a statement.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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