Image: Tony Hayward
Haraz N. Ghanbari  /  AP
Protestors taunt BP CEO Tony Hayward as he arrives June 17 on Capitol Hill in Washington for a hearing on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
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updated 7/25/2010 5:41:38 PM ET 2010-07-25T21:41:38

Gaffe-prone BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward — who incensed many on the Gulf Coast by saying he wanted his life back as they struggled with the fallout from the company's massive oil spill — will be replaced, a senior U.S. government official said Sunday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.

The government official did not know who will replace Hayward or when it will happen. One of the most likely successors is BP Managing Director Bob Dudley, who is currently overseeing the British company's spill response.

Earlier Sunday, BP spokesman Toby Odone seemed to downplay media speculation about Hayward's departure, saying he "remains BP's chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management."

BP's board would have to approve a change in company leadership. An official announcement could come as early as Monday.

It's been more than three months since an offshore drilling rig operated by BP exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the spill. A temporary plug has stopped oil from gushing for more than a week now, but before that the busted well had spewed anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf.

Since the explosion, Hayward has made several highly publicized gaffes. Among them: going to a yacht race while oil washed up on Gulf shores, and uttering the now-infamous: "I want my life back" line.

Oppenheimer & Co. senior analyst Fadel Gheit said in an interview Sunday that it was too bad Hayward's career was derailed by the spill, but "unfortunately he became a sacrificial lamb in a politically charged world."

Dudley would be well-suited to take over, Gheit said, describing him as even-tempered and a good delegator. It's never an easy time to instill new leadership in a company, though, he noted.

"I'm not sure if removing Tony Hayward is going to throw BP's problems away," Gheit said.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said BP's attitude about making things right is more important than who is running it.

"BP, from I think everybody's perspective, made a very bad mistake," she said. "I think what the world expects from BP is an acknowledgment that something was done wrong. I think BP has a long way to go to gain the trust of the people."

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The company has already spent roughly $4 billion on its response to the crisis. The final tally could be in the tens of billions of dollars.

News that the CEO will depart came as no surprise to people living along the Gulf.

Patrick Shay, 43, sat on a porch swing of his cottage in Grand Isle on Sunday, his front yard filled with small, white crosses, each bearing the name of sealife or ways of life the oil spill has killed.

"He seems like a pretty self-absorbed person, so I'm not surprised to hear he would walk away in the middle of all this," he said. "If anything it will help. They need to get him out of the way and get this cleaned up."

David Duet, 62, of LaRose, La., filled his ice chest at the grocery store in Grand Isle, where he brings his camper every weekend despite the oil.

"I don't think he's directly responsible for the spill, but he still had to answer for it," said Duet, who worked on oil rigs for more than 22 years. "I can understand the time it took to cap it. I know how hard things are out there."

In New Orleans, Chris Hearn, a 23-year-old security guard, said what's important is getting the oil stopped permanently.

"It doesn't matter who's in charge," he said. "As long as they clean it up, I really could care less. They just need to get it cleaned up because it's affecting all of us down here."

Crews trying to plug the leaky well for good had to stop work late last week because of the threat from Tropical Storm Bonnie, but the effort was back on track as skies cleared Sunday.

A drill rig is expected to reconnect at around midnight to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well, and drilling could resume in the next few days.

Completion of the relief well that is the best chance to permanently stop the oil now looks possible by mid-August, but retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the spill, said he wouldn't hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.

"We have no choice but to start well ahead of time if we think the storm track is going to bring gale force winds, which are 39 mph or above, anywhere close to well site," Allen said.

Allen said officials will spend the next day determining how Bonnie, which did no real damage on shore, affected the area. Oil may have migrated north to Mississippi Sound, he said, and officials are checking to see if boom that was protecting sensitive marshlands was pushed ashore.

Allen said he had not heard whether Hayward is being replaced.

"I've got no knowledge of the inner workings of BP," he said.

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Video: U.S. official: BP’s Hayward on the way out

  1. Transcript of: U.S. official: BP’s Hayward on the way out

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: As work resumed today to permanently plug the gulf oil leak, we learn that things may have finally come full circle for the BP boss who once famously uttered the words, `I want my life back.' Containment crews who were briefly evacuated after that brush with a tropical storm picked up where they left off at the spill site today as word circulated that BP was on the verge of replacing its embattled chief executive, Tony Hayward . NBC 's Michelle Kosinski has more this evening from New Orleans . Michelle , good evening.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good evening, Lester . It looks like one more job will be lost to the oil spill , and US government officials say it is the position of CEO of BP , a post held by Tony Hayward since 2007 until apparently very soon. Since the oil started gushing back in April, BP has tried to weather its own storm surrounding it, and CEO Tony Hayward as the public face of the company has only made waves.

    Mr. TONY HAYWARD: I'm not stonewalling.

    KOSINSKI: He stated that the size of the spill is tiny compared to the size of the Gulf of Mexico . While the crisis roiled, he attended a yacht race, and

    then these memorable words: I'd like my life back.

    Mr. HAYWARD: Well, now looks he has it. Reportedly, BP 's board has been negotiating his departure, and he may resign as early as tomorrow, one day before the board is set to announce a huge second quarter loss. BP is saying, "Mr. Hayward remains the chief executive officer and has the full confidence of our board and senior management," calling the reports "just rumors and speculation." On the front lines today, boats that had to leave ahead of the storm are back to continue preparing to kill the well and skim the oil. The view from above, to the Coast Guard and local leaders, the best they've seen since all this started. It really is hard to see oil out there right now.

    KOSINSKI: There is not at the well head so far as we've been able to see. We have seen some light sheen.

    Mayor MITCH LANDRIEU (New Orleans): Admiral Paul Zukunft , in charge of operations above water, sat down with us this morning.

    KOSINSKI: We've seen a dramatic change in -- it's reflected in even our recovery rates. You know, nine days ago we skimmed 25,000 barrels a day. Seven days ago, it was 50 -- 56, actually.

    Admiral PAUL ZUKUNFT: He doesn't mean 56,000 barrels, he means only 56. The cap is holding. The static kill attempt, delayed several days by the storm threat, is expected to happen the first week of August. As for the oil that remains, each day looks a little more like an approach to the end. Just last Sunday there was high anxiety over oil seams seeping from the area of the well, raising tensions between the government and BP . Well, today the Coast Guard tells us they just received the results of tests that show there are no seeps, no leaks and no gas leaking from that well. Lester :

    KOSINSKI: That's certainly good to hear. Michelle , thank you.

    HOLT:

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