BP disaster fund almost drained

Faces ever higher legal payouts.

BP has today announced that the $20 bn fund it set up to pay compensation claims in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is down to its last $300m, with the deadline for business to claim loss of earnings not arriving until April 2014.

This leaves future profits exposed as the company has made clear that once the fund has run dry, further claims will come directly from the balance sheet; “We expect that, in the third quarter, the remaining amount for items covered by the trust will be fully utilised and additional amounts will be charged to the income statement."

This exposure, coupled with a stronger US dollar and the lagging effect of export duty on Russian oil are likely to further damage profits at the multinational, resulting in shares falling by more than 4 per cent in London trading.

The news that BP has nearly spent $20 billion on claims and more than $40 billion in total when clean up costs are considered, must be particularly galling given last week’s news that Halliburton has gotten away with little more than a slapped wrist for its part in the disaster.

BP has long claimed that it is not solely responsible for the disaster, in which 11 people lost their lives and saw the Macondo well release nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico until it was capped in July 2010 after 87 days. Contractors Transocean, Cameron and Halliburton must also shoulder some of the blame for the catastrophic well blowout, according to BP.

But Halliburton has so far avoided much of the fallout which BP has been paying for, making just one voluntary payment of $55m to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Last week, the company finally admitted its part in the disaster; pleading guilty to the charge it had destroyed evidence relating to its role in the cementing of the Macondo well prior to the blowout.

In a statement, the company said: “A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation”.

This $200,000 pales in comparison to BP’s exposure, but could yet weaken their position in trying to negotiate a settlement in the civil trail which is still ongoing in the US.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear