Stakes are high for firms and Obama

Marion Dakers
ALMOST exactly a year ago, Barack Obama received his independent report into the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, having called for “whose ass to kick” over the spill a few months earlier.

His experts rightly slammed BP, Transocean and Halliburton for mistakes that caused the worst oil spill in US history. They also pointed out that if BP, or a similar oil behemoth, had not been a culprit in the blow-out, victims might never have been compensated as quickly or thoroughly.

It would be disproportionate to praise BP for its reaction to the disaster – chief Tony Hayward and chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s quips will go down in the annals of corporate gaffe history – but its $20bn compensation pot has gone some way to getting some of those suffering in the Gulf of Mexico back on track.

But even this massive stack of dollars, and BP’s eagerness to end its lingering share price “spill discount”, will eventually run dry. And as this week’s court filings have shown, others like Halliburton are reluctant to chip in until it’s absolutely necessary.

Obama thundered at the time that “every single person affected” should be compensated, as he halted deepwater drilling in the Gulf for almost a year – standing in stark contrast to the “drill, baby, drill” mindset of many in the Republican party.

In 2012, a move to bash some heads together could ensure the legal squabbles over liability are settled during the next tranche of court hearings in February.

It could also neutralise the kind of career kryptonite that felled top brass at BP – which could be particularly dangerous in an election year.