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BP’s U.S. Media Head Said to Leave After Two Months in Role

BP Plc, the owner of a Gulf of Mexico well that caused a record oil spill, is replacing Anne Womack Kolton as head of U.S. media relations two months after she was appointed, two people familiar with the decision said.

Kolton, a former spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department and for Vice President Dick Cheney, is being replaced by Scott Dean, a 12-year BP veteran who handled communications for the company’s Texas refinery blast, according to two people who asked not to be identified because the decision isn’t public.

BP yesterday injected cement into the top of the Macondo well, the first of a two-part effort to permanently plug the leak, which began after an April 20 explosion aboard a drilling rig. The explosion killed 11 workers and caused an estimated 4.9-million-barrel leak, the biggest accidental oil spill in history.

Kolton, 34, joined London-based BP on June 1, 42 days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded. The day she began, the U.S. Justice Department announced its probe into potential violations leading up to the spill, and President Barack Obama called it “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind.”

Kolton previously worked for Washington-based public affairs firm APCO Worldwide and for Brunswick Group LLP, a London-based company that BP has retained for communications advice. She was also an assistant press secretary for President George W. Bush and press secretary for Cheney during the 2004 presidential campaign.

David Nicholas, a spokesman for BP, declined to comment today on Kolton’s departure.

‘PR Gaffes’

BP has retained more Washington lobbyists amid multiple Congressional and Obama administration investigations of the spill. The company, whose shares have fallen more than 30 percent since the rig exploded, stopped the flow of oil from the well on July 15, and may complete the cementing process using a relief well by the end of August, according to National Incident Commander Thad Allen.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on June 20 the company has had a “long line of PR gaffes and mistakes” after its chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, was photographed at a yacht race. BP said last month Hayward would be replaced by Robert Dudley on Oct. 1.

Kolton, who has three children and lives in the Washington area with her husband, was commuting to Houston for the job. She is taking a job in Washington, said one of the people familiar.

Kolton was brought to BP to replace Ronnie Chappell, who retired in mid-March. Chappell, who had been based in Houston, coordinated BP’s media response to an explosion at the company’s Texas City refinery in 2005, which killed 15 workers.

Dean, 47, has been leading BP’s U.S. media operations since July, according to a person familiar. He is based in Chicago and has been with BP since it acquired Amoco, his previous employer, in 1998. Dean is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1985.

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