BP chief to step down in 2008

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The BP chief executive Lord Browne confirmed today that he will retire from his post at the oil giant at the end of 2008.

He said there was no rift between himself and chairman Peter Sutherland and said the pair enjoyed "a very long-standing relationship based on mutual respect".

Lord Browne added that, even if he was asked to stay on at BP, he would decline and said there was a strong set of candidates in line to succeed him as chief executive.

At a press conference at BP's headquarters in London, Lord Browne said: "I will be retiring from BP, though may I say not from work, in 2008."

The announcement of Lord Browne's retirement followed weeks of speculation over his position at the company.

Lord Browne said: "I have been reading all the speculation about my own position and was both astonished and rather shocked by it all.

"I want to be crystal clear about the situation. I will be retiring in 2008.

"I will leave BP at the end of 2008. Let me add that, even if I were asked to stay, I would decline."

He added: "There is no rift between Peter Sutherland and me. Ours is a very long-standing relationship based on mutual respect."

The announcement came as BP reported profits of 11.38 billion US dollars (£6.14 billion) for the half year to the end of June, up from 10.47 billion US dollars (£5.66 billion) last year. This represents profits of £1.4 million an hour.

Profits for the second quarter came in at 6.12 billion US dollars (£3.3 billion), ahead of City forecasts, compared with 4.98 billion US dollars (£2.69 billion) for the same period last year.

Lord Browne said the second-quarter result reflected "good overall operating performance" with the firm's actions to control costs on track, but added that results were being impacted by higher tax charges.

"The near-term global outlook appears resilient," he added.

High oil costs have more than made up for a drop in output. The price of Brent crude soared to 69.53 US dollars a barrel in the three months to June 30, compared with 61.79 US dollars in the first quarter and 51.63 US dollars a year ago.

BP said production for the quarter at 4.02 million barrels of oil a day was broadly flat when compared with the same period last year after adjusting for the effect of disposals.

The London-based firm added that production for the half year at 4.03 million barrels of oil a day was 2% lower than last year.

Production has been falling as BP continues to suffer from damage caused by last summer's brutal hurricane season.

Repair work is continuing at Thunder Horse in the Gulf of Mexico - one of the world's largest oil platforms - after it was badly damaged.

In addition, an investigation has been launched after two leaks were found at the platform during routine tests. The start-up of production is expected in early 2007.

In a separate announcement today, BP said it is to invest another one billion US dollars in addition to the six billion US dollars already allocated over the next four years to upgrade safety at its US refineries and to repair and replace infield pipelines in Alaska.

This comes following a number of incidents over the past 18 months, including an explosion last year at the Texas City refinery.

The company is facing a criminal investigation into a massive oil spill in Alaska in which 270,000 gallons of crude leaked into Prudhoe Bay.

And earlier this month it emerged that BP had suspended three traders at the centre of an alleged propane price-fixing scandal.

Regulators in the US have filed a lawsuit against the company over claims that it bought up large amounts of propane in February 2004 and withheld it from the market to drive prices higher.

Lord Browne said today: "These events in our US businesses have all caused great shock within the BP group. They have prompted us to look very critically at what we can learn from ourselves and others, and at what we can do in certain key areas to assure ourselves and the outside world that our US businesses are consistently operating safely and with honesty and integrity.

"We are, of course, continuing to co-operate to the fullest possible extent with the US regulatory bodies investigating these events."

Lord Browne said an advisory board is to be appointed to advise the group's US subsidiary, BP America, and its newly-appointed chair, Robert Malone, which will focus on compliance, safety and regulation.