UK prepares for risks of a BP collapse

Energy Matters0


The company employs 10,105 UK staff directly and generated tax receipts of ₤5.8 billion ($10.5bn) in 2009. It also owns much of Britain’s most critical energy infrastructure, including the Forties Pipeline System that connects more than 50 oil and gas producing fields in the North Sea.

In addition BP controls vital strategic assets overseas, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that bypasses Russia and Iran to connect Europe with the rich oil and gas resources of Azerbaijan and the Caspian region.

As well as the political ramifications stemming from a collapse of BP, the government is also concerned about the impact on millions of British pensioners for whom the company’s dividends have served as an important plank of their retirement income.

David Cameron and Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, are set to discuss BP’s future with US officials during a trip to Washington on July 20.

Speaking in Toronto at the G20 on June 25, Mr Cameron warned that BP faced potential destruction unless US authorities stepped in to prevent its compensation costs escalating out of control.

The Department for Business declined to comment on the contingency plans, which are believed to still be under discussion and have encompassed a range of subjects from pension arrangements to the future of BP’s international empire.

A person familiar with the talks said: “It is not clear how bad this will get, but the government needs to be prepared for any eventuality.”

BP already faces crippling costs from the accident but if the leak cannot be plugged by drilling a relief well, there is a growing threat of a takeover, with ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell touted as the most likely candidates.

One insider claimed that one possibility mooted was whether, under extreme circumstances, the government should consider intervening to protect BP, which was a nationalised company until 1987.

Such an approach would raise the prospect of a bailout similar to the rescue of RBS and other stricken lenders during the 2008-09 credit crunch.

BP dismissed fears of a collapse.

“We will recover from this, but there are undoubtedly going to be big changes in the way the company and the industry operate,” a spokesman said.

News of the discussions surfaced as BP insisted that it had no plans to issue new shares, either to strategic investors or in the form of a conventional rights issue, despite the huge financial pressure caused by the spill.

However, the oil giant did say that it has been actively encouraging sovereign wealth funds and other potential investors in the Middle East to acquire shares at the present depressed price.

That interest was reflected last night when a senior Libyan official suggested that the government of Colonel Gad-dafi would consider an investment in BP.

Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s national oil company, said: “BP is interesting now with the price lower by half and I still have trust in BP.”

Several of BP’s largest shareholders had expressed concern at suggestions that it might consider selling a stake to a third party, such as the Kuwait Investment Authority.

One said: “I would be very surprised; it would be disastrous. This is the worst possible time for them to raise equity – their shares are hugely undervalued.”

BP shares closed up 3.5 per cent in London overnight.