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BP Damages Swell to $11 Billion as Company Pledges Assets

By late August some 42,000 claims had been filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility


In just one month, the claims filed against BP plc (NYSE: BP) on behalf of individuals and businesses claiming damages from BP’s Macondo well disaster have doubled. As of late August some 42,000 claims had been filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, GCCF. By September 30th, more than 86,000 claims have been submitted to the GCCF.

Of the claims filed, over 44,000 have been paid at a cost to BP of $806 million. In late August, BP had paid just 4,900 claims at a cost of about $38.5 million. Before transferring the claims process to the GCCF, BP had paid about 127,000 claims at a cost of $399 million.

Overall, BP says the company has paid about $11.2 billion for its response to the accident, including the costs of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf Coast states, and all claims paid to date. As of late August the company had paid out a total of $8 billion.

At the same time that BP released these new cost figures, the company announced that it was pledging revenues from three of its Gulf of Mexico assets to compensate payments to the $20 billion trust it was ordered by the US government to establish. The company established a wholly-owned company, Verano Collateral Holdings LLC, to hold the overriding royalty interest in BP’s Gulf production and to pledge the interests to the trust as collateral for its remaining obligations.

BP noted that it has already contributed $3 billion to the trust and will make a further $2 billion deposit in the fourth quarter of 2010. The remaining $15 billion will be deposited in payments of $1.25 billion per quarter through the end of 2013. The collateral amount is capped at $1.25 billion per quarter and a total of $17 billion.

BP said it would treat Verano as a consolidated entity for purposes of its financial reporting. That means that it gets to count the fund as an asset, rather than a liability. Makes the books look better.

There could be another reason why BP made this pledge now. The US House of Representatives has threatened to deny BP the right to drill in the Gulf. BP has countered by saying that if it can’t drill, then it may not be able to fund the $20 billion fund.

That’s nonsense of course. The company posted free cash flow of more than $7 billion in 2009. BP may not want to build the escrow fund because it would severely hinder its operations. But that doesn’t change the fact that it could do so.

BP is almost certainly demonstrating to the US government that it fully intends to stand by its promise to build the escrow fund. But by pledging its Gulf assets as collateral, it has put a stake in the ground. If the company is banned from operating in the Gulf, BP implies, things could change.

As of this writing, Paul Ausick did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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