NORTH Sea veteran Bernard Looney is set to take charge of BP on a base salary of £1.3 million after chief executive Bob Dudley announced plans to quit.

The oil and gas giant said Mr Dudley has decided to step down in February after nine years leading the company through challenging times.

The American executive took charge of BP in 2010 months after the start of the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that followed a fatal explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Read more: BP boss insists oil giant is part of solution to climate change challenge 

The leak caused massive environmental damage and left BP facing bills of more than $60 billion.

BP’s problems were compounded by the crude price plunge from 2014.

Mr Dudley has presided over a retrenchment process that has seen BP sell off a raft of North Sea assets and cut hundreds of jobs in the area.

BP’s chairman Helge Lund said Mr Dudley had rebuilt BP as a stronger, safer company and helped it re-earn its position as one of the leaders of the energy sector.

“This company – and indeed the whole industry – owes him a debt of gratitude,” said Mr Lund.

He said Mr Looney had all the right qualities to lead BP through a “transformational era” as the company charts a course through the energy transition.

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The plans for the changing of the guard were announced days after BP found itself in the spotlight over its environmental record.

On Wednesday The Royal Shakespeare Company said it was ending a longstanding sponsorship deal with BP after protests by students.The previous day the head of BP’s UK business Peter Mather had insisted the company was part of the solution to the climate change challenge.

BP played up Mr Looney’s environmental credentials yesterday. It noted: “Bernard has encouraged BP to lead the industry on methane detection methods as well as driving sustainable emissions reductions of almost 3 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in the past two years.”

A 28-year veteran of BP, Mr Looney took charge of the key exploration and production division in 2016.

Read more: North Sea growth on agenda at BP as it doubles profits

Mr Looney previously held senior roles in BP’s North Sea business, which he led from 2009 to 2010.

A citizen of Ireland, he has made clear that BP sees long term potential in the North Sea, where it has focused investment on big fields in areas such as West of Shetland.

BP said Mr Dudley will step down as chief executive on February 4 and retire on March 31, after 40 years with the firm. His 2019 bonus entitlement will not be affected.

Mr Dudley earned total remuneration of $14.7m last year after BP more than doubled profits off the back of rising oil prices.

Mr Looney will be eligible for a bonus and share awards and entitled to a cash allowance in lieu of pension equal to 15 per cent of base salary.

Mr Dudley said Mr Looney was a terrific choice noting: “He knows BP and our industry as well as anyone but is creative and not bound by traditional ways of working.”