The man responsible for one of the biggest oil spills in history has been awarded an honorary degree by a north-east university – for his contribution to the industry.
Former chief executive of BP Tony Hayward – who was once described as the US’s most hated man – was made a doctor of technology by the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen yesterday.
The institute immediately came under fire yesterday for what has been described as “serious error of judgment” – and even a “sick joke”.
Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT union, said: “I can only wonder about the rationale applied to determine that the man responsible for one of the biggest environmental disasters ever should be recognised and honoured in this way.”
But Mr Hayward said that time was “a big healer” and that it was right to accept the accolade.
The university defended its decision and said the geologist, who started his career in Aberdeen, was a “great role model”.
Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of RGU, said: “He faced adversity and came back from it with determination and wisdom.”
It emerged last night that the shamed oil exec was initially offered the degree – which recognises “significant achievement” by individuals – at the end of 2009.
But before he could had the chance to officially accept it in 2010, there was a catastrophic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig where 11 people were killed.
Nearly five million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico and the clean-up bill reached tens of billions.
The oil fouled 1,110 miles of beaches and marsh along Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. and The full environmental impact is still unknown.
BP, to whom the rig was under contract, set up a $20billion (£12.6billion fund to compensate the victims, selling assets as it watched its share price tumble.
Following a PR firestorm in the aftermath, which eventually forced Mr Hayward out of his £4million-a-year job as BP’s chief executive, he never took the university up on its offer – until now.
It is understood when an individual is offered an honorary degree, the offer will always stand – no matter when they choose to receive it.
Yesterday, Mr Hayward defended his decision to accept the accolade.
“It’s a recognition of my contribution to the oil and gas industry over 30 years,” he said.
“I’d like to think the incident does not capture the entirety of my career. I did a lot before and I have done a lot since.
“Time is a big healer. I’ve moved on from it to a very large degree.”
But the move was blasted by environmental leaders who said Mr Hayward should have had more respect for the lives, businesses and land he ruined.
Bob Deans, spokesman for one of the USA’s biggest environmental groups, Natural Resources Defence Council, said the award was a serious error.
“The BP blowout killed 11 workers, put 180 million of gallons of toxic crude oil into some of the most fertile fisheries anywhere in the world and threw tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents out of work,” he said.
“Hayward’s public response was to shrug off the impact, belittle its victims and dismiss the maladies of clean-up workers hospitalised from inhaling toxic fumes.
“To honour this man at a reputable university and hold him out as a role model to a new generation discredits the school and does a disservice to its students.”
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: Mr Hayward was the wrong person to set an example to new graduates.
“Robert Gordon University have made a very serious error of judgement with this award which sends exactly the wrong message to current and future students.” he said.
“Tony Hayward presided over the world’s largest oil spill, but continually played down its significance and trivialised the deaths of 11 people.
“Giving him an honorary degree for his contribution to business is a sick joke.”