Partner heaps all blame on BP
HOUSTON/SAN FRANCISCO |
HOUSTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As BP Plc rushed to raise cash to pay for the Gulf of Mexico disaster, a partner in the out-of-control well said the British company was likely guilty of "wilful misconduct" and should shoulder the financial burden for the worst U.S. oil spill.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp, owner a quarter of the well gushing into the Gulf, broke its near-silence on the spill to squarely pin blame -- and financial responsibility for claims -- on BP.
"Frankly, we are shocked," Houston-based Anadarko Chairman and CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement.
"BP's behaviour and actions likely represent gross negligence or wilful misconduct," he added, driving his company's shares up 2.2 percent in after-hours trading.
BP, which has survived a tough week answering to Congress for the spill, said it "strongly disagrees" with the assessment of gross negligence.
It is scrambling to line up resources to pay for a $20 billion (13 billion pound) damage claims fund demanded by President Barack Obama.
Banking sources told Reuters the British energy giant was seeking $1 billion in loans from each of seven banks, and CNBC said it was hoping to raise $5 billion with a bond.
The financial outlook is far from clear. Moments after Anadarko's statement, credit rating agency Moody's cut BP's rating to junk level, citing potential liability from the spill, and earlier in the day it cut by three notches its rating on BP debt, which is trading around junk levels.
As the crisis entered its 60th day, the U.S. Coast Guard admiral leading the U.S. government relief effort said BP had increased the amount of oil it was siphoning off from its blown-out deep-sea well to 25,000 barrels (1.05 million gallons/3.97 million litres) on Thursday.
It was the largest pool of oil from the gusher yet collected by BP. On Wednesday, it siphoned off 18,600 barrels.
But putting that figure in context, Admiral Thad Allen said 35,000 barrels a day, and possibly as much as 60,000 barrels, were gushing from the well, which ruptured after an April 20 explosion on an offshore oil rig which killed 11 workers.
A device called a blowout preventer failed in the Gulf well, and the U.S. Interior Department on Friday changed rules for new wells, requiring drillers to submit plans for stopping blowouts and to gauge the chances of such a failure.
The spill -- actually hundreds of thousands of small oil patches -- has idled much of the U.S. Gulf Coast's multibillion dollar fishing industry and seeped into ecologically sensitive marches and wetlands despite the efforts of an army of workers to keep it at bay with oil-soaking booms.
Gulf Coast residents worried this week that BP executives' bruising encounters with Obama at the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill had diverted attention from the daily battle to clean up a spill that threatens their livelihoods.
Individuals and businesses have claimed an estimated $600 million in damages from BP, but the company had paid only $71 million, less than 12 percent, by early this week, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee said on Friday.
"BP is stiffing too many victims and short-changing others," Democratic Representative John Conyers, the committee chairman, said in a statement.
Kenneth Feinberg, the man picked by Obama to oversee the $20 billion compensation fund, pledged during a visit to the Gulf Coast state of Mississippi on Friday to pay legitimate claims quickly.
A senior banker told Reuters BP's outreach to banks, including Barclays, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland, was part of an effort to raise capital for the claims fund. BP declined to comment.
The company said on June 4 it had $5 billion in cash in addition to $5.25 billion in undrawn committed bank lines, and $5.25 billion in committed stand-by bank lines.
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Sky News Television on Friday that his company had "strong underlying performance -- strong cash flow, strong operations."
MORE MONEY MAY BE NEEDED
Feinberg told CBS News on Friday $20 billion may not be enough to meet all legitimate claims. "No one knows for sure yet, but the president made clear, and as I understand it BP went along, that if $20 billion is not enough, there will be additional funds provided," he said.
After falling 6.8 percent in a week of volatility driven by politics in Washington, BP's U.S.-listed shares hovered nearly unchanged on Friday. The shares are down 26 percent so far in June, their worst month since the October 1987 market crash.
Investors appeared unimpressed by BP chief executive Tony Hayward's performance at a U.S. congressional hearing on Thursday. Lawmakers accused him of being evasive and of failing to take responsibility for the spill.
"Hayward's performance wasn't great, but it could have been worse. As a shareholder, our absolute top priority is to see that all energies are being diverted to cap this wretched well," said one top 10 investor.
Investors and analysts said Hayward may cling on despite calls by some U.S. lawmakers for BP to "clean house," but the future was less certain for Svanberg, who earlier in the week described those hurt by the oil spill as "small people," for which he later apologized.
Some shareholders say changing BP's leadership now would be counterproductive when it is in the midst of a battle to cap its blown-out Macondo well.
BP hopes a pair of relief wells now being drilled will halt the leak in August. The aim is for one or both relief wells to intersect with the leaking well at its bottom to pump in heavy drilling fluids and cement to seal it.
The first relief well is within 200 feet (61 meters) of the side of the blown well, said Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production. But it must be drilled down farther before it can intersect with the blown well.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston and Raji Menon, Sarah Young, Tom Bergin and Matt Falloon in London; Writing by Ross Colvin; editing by Will Dunham, Todd Eastham)
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