Meet Anadarko, The Oil Company Struggling To Get Off The Hook For The Gulf Spill

June 24, 2010 6:53 am

You could never imagine BP escaping public notice in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. And yet one of its partners, Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum has somehow — despite owning a 25 percent stake in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig — almost managed to fly under the public’s radar.

That is, it did until last Friday, when Anadarko’s CEO released a scathing statement declaring BP grossly negligent in the rig’s explosion. But why risk the PR exposure? Possibly, Anadarko is looking to limit their legal exposure.BP, as the leaseholder of the rig, owns the financial liability for the disaster. The company, as we’ve heard from the Obama administration time and again, has to pay to stop the gusher and pay damages to those hurt by the leak. To that end, the White House had BP establish a $20 billion escrow fund to start paying those claims.

But BP is not the only lessee of the rig. Anadarko owns 25 percent of the lease, and a Japanese company, Mitsui, indirectly owns another 10 percent.

That makes Anadarko, according to its contract with BP, liable for 25 percent of any damages resulting from an incident — an incident like the rig explosion, which led to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Unless, that is, BP committed “gross negligence or willful misconduct” that led to the incident.

“The mounting evidence clearly demonstrates that this tragedy was preventable and the direct result of BP’s reckless decisions and actions,” Anadarko CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement last week. “BP’s behavior and actions likely represent gross negligence or willful misconduct and thus affect the obligations of the parties under the operating agreement.”

It’s no accident that Hackett’s statement mentions the exact phrase, “gross negligence or willful misconduct.”

Anadarko and BP entered into their agreement last October. Some news reports have hinted that BP may take legal action against Anadarko, but BP refuses to comment.

“Other parties other than BP may be responsible for costs and liabilities. … We expect those parties to live up to their obligations,” spokesman David Nicholas told TPM. He added that who pays for what will be figured out “in due course.”

The BP-Anadarko contract stipulates that any legal action must take place in arbitration, not public court.

Anadarko’s stake is, according to a spokesman, purely financial. The company had no personnel on the Deepwater Horizon, nor did it have any say in decisions regarding the rig. A spokesman for BP confirmed that Anadarko had no personnel on the rig, and that BP was the only operator.

Mitsui has not said whether it will fight liability.

Rep. Ed Markey, the chairman of the select committee on Energy Independence, last week called for both Anadarko and Mitsui to contribute to the escrow fund.

“They cannot escape responsibility,” Markey told Bloomberg. Both companies should be “contributing to any fund that is constructed for any part of the reconstruction,” he said.

A spokesman for Anadarko says the company has not been in touch with the Obama administration about the escrow fund or anything else, but said the company has offered boats and experts to the response effort.

“We’ve offered a lot more assistance than has been accepted,” the spokesman told TPM.

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