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 “willful 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 behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful 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 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 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 Friday changed rules for new wells, requiring drillers to submit plans for stopping blowouts and to gauge the chances of such a failure.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that BP’s well used a cheaper technology than the industry standard and was less secure against natural gas blowouts of the type that destroyed it. The newspaper’s analysis found that BP used the cheaper technology much more frequently than rivals.
COSTNER SHOWS OFF OIL SEPARATORS
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.
Hollywood star Kevin Costner joined cleanup efforts on Friday, showing off his “dream” machines to separate oil from water. He has developed them over 17 years — while the oil industry virtually ignored oil spill cleanup research — and BP has acquired 32 of the centrifuges.
Still 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 the spill.
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 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.
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Sky News Television 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 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 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.
The problems could continue past the one well. The Wall Street Journal reported that the blowout used a cheaper technology than main the industry standard and was less secure against natural gas blowouts of the type that destroyed it. The newspaper’s analysis found that BP used the cheaper technology much more frequently than rivals.
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 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 Peter Henderson and Ross Colvin; editing by Will Dunham and Todd Eastham)
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