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BP Now a Safer Firm, Says Chairman

'The whole industry has learned from the accident and we are doing everything to ensure that it doesn't happen again.'

Carl-Henric Svanberg, chairman of BP, defended his company's widely-criticized handling of the crisis and said that BP has emerged as a safer company.

Svanberg had been BP's chairman for only a few months when a massive explosion on April 20, 2010 rocked the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the British energy giant. The blast killed 11 people and sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf over a three-month period, wreaking havoc on the region's environment and economy.

A year after the blast, Svanberg told media in his native Sweden BP had learned its lessons and taken steps to become a safer company. "But we weren't unsafe before either -- 50,000 holes had been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico before it happened," he insisted in an interview with business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

"The whole industry has learned from the accident and we are doing everything to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

Svanberg was criticized for his low profile in the crucial weeks after the spill -- Britain's Independent newspaper called him "the invisible man" while a Swedish daily referred to his "ostrich tactics."

He said in two interviews published on April 19 that at the time he had deemed it was chief executive Tony Hayward's role to step forward and explain the company's position.

In the end though, "the problem wasn't that I was out too little, the problem was most probably that Tony was out too much. He became over exposed," he told the Svenska Dagbladet daily (SvD).

"We on the board did not take the initiative until we realized that the last attempt to plug (the ruptured oil well) at the end of May would fail, when it became clear that the accident would hurt us economically and politically," he told DI.

Svanberg was then thrust into the limelight when he was summoned to a meeting with President Obama at the beginning of June.

He insisted to SvD he had not been "called in," stressing BP had fought to obtain the meeting, which he called a "turning point."

But it was also the stage of one of Svanberg's major hostages to fortune -- on the White House lawn on June 10, he said BP "cared about the small people."

"That became a much bigger deal in Sweden than in England or the United States. It is clear that was unfortunate," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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