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

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.