BP REFUSES TO PAY
BP is refusing to pay a large bill for US government-led studies into its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including research into its impact on dolphins, whales and oysters.
Documents seen by the Financial Times show that the US government last year requested $148m from BP to fund studies this year in to the effect of the spill. But the company refused to pay for most of them arguing that it should not be forced to finance studies that it is not allowed to see.
The disagreement shows how the arguments over the clean-up of the gulf are emerging as a central issue in the multibillion-dollar legal actions still facing BP, four years after the company's Macondo well blew out, killing 11 men and causing the largest ever offshore oil spill in the US.
BP has paid more than $1bn for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment – a multiyear research programme, including more than 240 studies – that is intended to provide a comprehensive assessment of the harm done by the spill.
The NRDA is intended to provide a common understanding of the problems of the gulf shared by BP and the US government, so the company knows what it needs to do to meet its legal obligation to put the damage right.
However, BP has been raising concerns about what it describes as "serious defects in the current co-operative process" for controlling the research programme.
At the same time as BP has been supposed to work with the US government on the NRDA, it has been fighting in court over how far it will be able to use evidence of the health of the gulf in the trial over civil penalties for the spill, which is set to conclude next year.
BP argues that the government has been accumulating evidence, much of which the company has not yet been allowed to see, that could support its argument that the damage done to the gulf was much less than feared.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a US government agency, wrote to BP last July seeking almost $148m to pay for "injury assessment and restoration planning activities", including funding of $2.2m for research into the recovery of the coastal wetlands, more than $10m for dolphins and whales and $22m for oysters.
In October, BP replied to the NOAA request rejecting the majority of those requests, saying it was concerned over "the lack of visibility and accountability" in the process, and the unwillingness of the NRDA trustees, which are US federal agencies and coastal state governments, to engage in technical discussions of the substantive issues.
BP said it had paid for work that was not done or done properly, been double-billed for the same study, and not been allowed to see research findings that it had been told would be shared.
Published numbers suggest BP has slowed sharply its spending on the NRDA. By the end of 2012, it had spent $973m, the company said last year, and it now puts its spending to date at "more than $1bn".
The company said in a statement: "BP is committed to funding environmental restoration for damage caused by the spill, and a comprehensive scientific assessment of the effects of the spill is the first step in that process."
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