BP escrow idea further muddies oily waters

June 14, 2010

BP escrow idea further muddies oily waters   Rationally speaking, the escrow idea is flawed. There should be no doubting BP’s intention to pay legitimate claims. Despite its other failings, the company has always had a “no quibble” attitude to this. Nor can there be any real doubt about its ability to pay — unless the U.S. administration creates massive new obligations that make bankruptcy loom larger.

Rationally speaking, the escrow idea is flawed. There should be no doubting BP’s intention to pay legitimate claims. Despite its other failings, the company has always had a “no quibble” attitude to this. Nor can there be any real doubt about its ability to pay — unless the U.S. administration creates massive new obligations that make bankruptcy loom larger.

The big risk with setting money aside up-front, even into an independently supervised account, is that BP shareholders’ funds end up covering spurious claims. Worse still could be any efforts by lawyers, and even U.S. lawmakers, to collar such funds for broader purposes.

BP might not be facing the escrow demand had it taken the initiative earlier by signalling that it would not pay dividends while oil was still leaking from the well. That would only have been an expression of the political reality. There is also probably a financial justification for halting or cutting the payout, since it may anyway need to be sharply reduced to reflect the ongoing costs to BP’s U.S. business of the Gulf tragedy.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman, will face a tricky negotiation when he goes to the White House on Wednesday. The best outcome would probably be no escrow and a suspension of the dividend until the well is capped. But that may no longer be enough. Obama may now be fixated on demonstrating that the people of Louisiana and other Gulf states will not be left out of pocket.

So BP may have to yield. If it does, it should offer to pay a small amount — perhaps a few hundred million dollars — into escrow on a quarterly basis as a float to meet urgent legitimate claims. Who knows, in return the company may even manage to retain some flexibility to pay a much reduced dividend rather than none at all. But given BP’s skill handling the situation so far, it has a challenge on its hands avoiding the worst of both worlds.


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All bets are off on BP’s future until they have bottomed capped that well, successfully, and permanently.
Right now, at best, it is an assumption that in August they will achieve that end result.
Reading through the lines, there are a number of experts at various blogs, that indicate that plugging this well at the bottom may be very difficult, as there is huge pressures and this reservoir created a number of unprecedented surprises.
I hope for everyone’s sake, they got the most talented experts in the world on these drilling rigs that will be there to do this plug job.
But, how do we know, as the is this continuing blackout where you cannot find out much what is going on the drill rigs.
We don’t have any cameras, or interviews, of the drillers, to get the right impression on what is happening.
Also, everyone has to be cautious about a new accident to the BOP. Lets say that BOP breaks and leaks anywhere it that 5 story unit. What if it breaks at the bottom, just blows off the well head?
What if hurricanes do more damage to everything below.
The govt risked only ordering the second drilling rig as a back up. That was bold and could be fatal, if both rigs cannot reach and bottom plug the well.
At this stage we all have to be cautious and plan for the worse.

Posted by jopocop | Report as abusive

I think they should put up every dime they have to make sure the American people doesn’t get stuck footing the bill for this disaster.

Posted by astronaut | Report as abusive

BP crisis, “the spin”

Obama meets with the owners of:

MSNBC – Jeffrey Immelt (CEO of General Electric) and Melinda Gates (Co-Chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

Thompson-Reuters – David Kenneth Roy Thomson, 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet.

The Washington Post – Marcus W. Brauchli, Executive Editor.

Today, the media is flooded with stories about cancelled vacations in the gulf, birds with some oil on them … and general BP bashing, INSTEAD of the 81 women and children murdered by our U.S. Military UAV’s in Pakistan. (When did we declare war on them?).

Good work guys, we know who you work for.

P.S. Hey Barry, nice follow-through on the The Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by GRJensen | Report as abusive

As a shareholder I’d actually be ok to see the dividend suspended AND an escrow setup with the sum total of suspended dividends paid into it at the same time the dividend would have been paid. Over two years I understand that would equate to $20B in the fund. That’s probably excessive and indeed it probably would go on spurious claims but if it meant that the ever more shrill threats of compensation claims for laid of workers etc. would halt it would be price worth paying.

It would be a price worth paying if Obama clearly stated that BP’s actions were not just the ‘starting point’ but actually went some way to recognise their efforts and successes in the clean up and control of Maconda and we felt that we’d turned a corner in terms of the administration and BP cooperating; if some respect was shown; even Obama stressing that he too believed that BP absolutely had the capability to pay; that claims would be dealt with lawfully and with fully independent over-sight; that the reason for the escrow was in particular to facilitate faster payment (not unlimited payments)… this then is a price worth paying.

Maybe I’m being too soft. But frankly as a shareholder I’m willing to take many, many more punches before I really believe BP is going for broke. They are cash-flow positive in the proceeding quarters; and the oil price has stayed high. BP absolutely have the capability to deal with the compensation. Give it 2 or 3 years; the lesson will be learned and the company will move on from the tragedy all the stronger and SAFER for it.

Finally I’m not sure BP was a bad negotiator to fail to immediately suspend the dividend. It could have sent a very bad signal to the markets in terms of the degree to which BP was supine to the US administration’s demands. In a negotiation you don’t immediately acquiesce to a demand. Particularly important is that all the time BP has been very emphatic that it will meet all legitimate claims.

Posted by rnolds81 | Report as abusive

NONSENSE!!! The US government should freeze all of BP’s assets until they clean every drop of oil spilled and fully compensate everyone effected, that includes everyone that’s lost business, livelihoods, income, health, time and opportunity costs due to the adverse effects of the spill. Not to mention repair the environment to the way it was before.

After the government is done with BP, I’m sure the rest of the oil industry will make sure they never spill another drop of oil. The government should then take the same sledgehammer to the financial industry and wall street!

Posted by Pano1 | Report as abusive

What is needed is the escrow idea with a cap on BP liability, to end uncertainty. It is a tradeoff between a fund that will fund spurious claims, versus hundreds of billions of dollars in lawsuits and ridiculously high legal fees as far into the future as BP can see. Bite the bullet, get it over with. Move on. That is what BP should do, not worry about the inevitable fraud in situations such as this.

Posted by AmericaninCan1 | Report as abusive

Lets by clear, you only want money in escrow if you believe that BP will not be around in the medium term to pay. So now it becomes clear, the US political system wants to kill BP, but first it wants 20bn USD. As usual the US is acting like the biggest bully in the play ground blaming every non American for a problem, Transocean, Haliburton, Cameron International, Anadarko or Mitsui etc. are never mentioned, not really surprising.

Posted by Pete57 | Report as abusive

Wrong Pete… the problem is that companies pay some fines, make promises to clean up and then deny claims and move on. BP was given the permits to drill this well given their worse case scenario ability to clean up.

Being BP falsely promised the Minerals Management Service that its oil spill response plan “could recover 197 percent of the daily discharge from an uncontrolled blowout of 250,000 barrels per day,” they cannot handle a spill of only 4 percent of their promised capability.

Talk is cheap and ask the Alaskans how cheap it is, as they still see black coast lines, smell oil and their fisheries closed, jobs lost and still affected for decades. The court battles for punitive damages are still not all settled…

Let the words spun from Exxon executives ring in your ears, from 1989, “We will make you whole.”

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

It amazes me that some of the comments about BP about Escrow a/c’s and Dividends are ill considered.
If one stops the dividend the many American ordinary citizens will suffer.
I suspect as the article mentions that an Escrow account independently run will be open to fraud, a lawyers licence to siphon off funds for their own benefit. Costs will increase through the cost of the so called independent controller of the fund and how long will this Escrow account last. Will its excess monies be returned to BP and what if it runs out. I think reference to an Escrow account is a knee jerk political stance at trying to appear tough and I do not think it would be in the longer term interests of the peoples affected by this oil spill.

To me the essential issue is:

1. Ensure the rule of the law applies and if neccessary beef up the laws for the rectification,compensation and future safety issues.
2. BP who has the engineering skills be allowed to get on with the job of fixing the leak without political interference.
3. BP has said that it will effect a total clean up and pay compensation and should be allowed to effect and pay for this up without political interference.
4. The US Goverment should positively provide (obviously at a cost) all neccessary support as required by BP.
5. The US Government should have an independent investigation (without political and home grown bias!) as to what and why this accident happened and if this was not a freak accident, who of the participants of this rig were ultimately responsible singularily or jointly responsible. It is difficult to comprehend that of the participants only one is being castigated. If the accident was due to poor practices then when I was in industry all the participants had the opportunity to stop bad practices and were thus all equally culpable.

6. Governments around the world have to make a decision re deep water drilling and the safety measures covered by law that need to be in place to allow its continuance. They need to decide if their insatiable appetite for oil is worth the risks. Certainly I am amazed that he who uses the most in the world at the cheapest price screams the loudest when things do not go right.

Posted by GROCK | Report as abusive