BP weighs dividend cut as U.S. doubles oil leak estimate
BP's board may consider cutting or deferring its second-quarter dividend or even issuing dividend payments as scrip.
Fri, Jun 11 2010 at 3:47 PM
UNDER FIRE: "We are considering all options on the dividend, but no decision has been made," BP CEO Tony Hayward said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
BP mulled Friday whether to suspend dividend payments to shareholders because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which U.S. experts have estimated is twice as big as previously thought.
"We are considering all options on the dividend. But no decision has been made," the British energy giant's under fire CEO Tony Hayward said in an interview with the The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper said BP's board may consider cutting or deferring its second-quarter dividend — due to be announced July 27 — or even issuing dividend payments as scrip, effectively a means of delaying payment.
The Times of London reported the company was preparing to place the second-quarter dividend money — an expected $1.7 billion — in an escrow account until the spill is brought under control, in an attempt to ease political pressure on the firm.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard admiral heading the U.S. response to the nation's worst environmental catastrophe said BP was working to double the amount of oil it could recover from a containment system placed over the leaking well.
Thad Allen told journalists he was reviewing plans from BP to build the system's capacity so it can collect 40,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil a day by July once a more permanent cap has been placed over the well.
Allen said the current capacity is 28,000 barrels per day but that new processing ships and shuttle tankers were being brought in.
"They're incrementally building it out," Allen said. "We will shift to a hard cap that will allow us to capture more."
A permanent solution will not come before the first of two relief wells is completed, in August at the earliest, allowing the leak to be plugged with cement.
New data Thursday suggested the oil's flow — before the containment system was put in place last week — was between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels a day and could be upwards of 40,000 barrels a day — or some 1.68 million gallons.
Asked whether the cut-and-cap operation to attach the containment device to the leaking pipe could have increased the flow, Allen said it was not yet possible to get exact figures.
"We want to put some sensors down there and get pressure readings ... that can validate what is coming out of the riser pipe."
The flow announcement piled further pressure on BP, whose liability is directly linked to the amount of oil gushing into the sea.
Top U.S. lawmaker Nancy Pelosi urged BP not to pay dividends and echoed recent comments from President Barack Obama, who has called on the firm not to short-change residents and businesses affected by the disaster.
"I'm saying that they should not be paying dividends until they make these people whole, and make a better effort to do it in a timely fashion," the Democratic House Speaker told reporters.
Amid fears of an anti-British backlash in the United States over the spill, British Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss BP's handling of crisis with Obama over the weekend.
Investors worry Obama intends to exact a heavy price from the British energy giant as its potential liability soars.
BP's share price has fallen more than 40 percent — wiping tens of billions of dollars off its market value — since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after a deadly explosion.
Allen has summoned BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and other company officials to a White House meeting next Wednesday. There was no word on whether Hayward would participate.
Cameron held talks Friday with Svanberg and threw his support behind a "financially strong" BP while voicing frustration over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his office said.
Obama, who heads to the Gulf next week for his fourth visit since the disaster, met Thursday at the White House with relatives of the 11 workers killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded.
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the company's liability should include reimbursing all companies hit by a six-month moratorium on deep sea drilling.
U.S. government officials said BP had agreed to speed up payouts to individuals and businesses affected by the spill following a meeting Wednesday with Allen.
Copyright 2010 AFP American Edition