Obama insists anger at BP not directed at Britain

12th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Barack Obama said his sharp criticism of BP was not aimed at Britain Saturday as the US Coast Guard increased pressure on BP to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Obama, who had been referring to BP by its former full name "British Petroleum," told Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron that "frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity," a spokeswoman for the prime minister's Downing Street office said.

Obama has summoned BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to meet with him in Washington next Wednesday, criticized chief executive Tony Hayward, fired a warning over shareholder payouts and said he wants to know "whose ass to kick" over the catastrophe.

British newspapers in turn have demanded that Cameron -- who has defended the need for a "financially strong BP" -- stand up to Obama amid fears that his rhetoric was stoking an anti-British backlash.

"The prime minister stressed the economic importance of BP to the UK, US and other countries," the Downing Street spokeswoman said. "The president made clear that he had no interest in undermining BP's value."

The White House said the pair, who spoke by phone, "discussed the impact of tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reiterating that BP must do all it can to respond effectively to the situation."

Separately, the US Coast Guard ordered BP to improve its plans to contain the spill within 48 hours given new US government data this week that suggested the flow was as much as double previous estimates.

"Because those estimates have now been revised and estimate a substantially higher flow of oil from the Macado 252 well, it is clear that additional capacity is urgently needed," it said in a letter dated June 11 and released Saturday.

US government data on Thursday suggested the flow of the leak -- before a containment system was put in place last week -- was between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels a day and could be upwards of 40,000 barrels a day.

But the containment system BP is using is only capturing around 28,000 barrels a day, and the company's operation to boost that rate to between 40,000 to 50,000 barrels is not currently scheduled to be ready until July.

There will be no permanent solution until the first of two relief wells is completed, in August at the earliest, allowing the leak to be plugged with cement.

"I am concerned that your current plans do not provide for maximum mobilization of resources to provide the needed collection capacity consistent with revised flow estimates," US Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson told BP in the letter.

"I am also concerned that your plan does not go far enough to mobilize redundant resources in the event of an equipment failure with one of the vessels or some other unforeseen problem," he added.

"BP must identify in the next 48 hours additional leak containment capacity that could be operationalized and expedited to avoid the continued discharge of oil."

BP meanwhile has indicated it may finally bow to US pressure and suspend its dividend payment due July 27.

Suspending the dividend is "an option that's up for discussion," a BP spokesman told AFP.

"No decision has been made on it, we are looking at options," said the spokesman. "There's a board meeting on Monday but they are not necessarily going to take a decision on it then."

Britain's Times newspaper said BP was preparing to place the second-quarter dividend money -- an expected 1.7 billion dollars -- in an escrow account in an attempt to ease political pressure on the firm.

Top US lawmaker Nancy Pelosi has urged BP not to pay dividends and echoed pleas from Obama not to shortchange those hit by the disaster.

The final price tag for BP is still unknown because it is unclear how much oil is flowing from the well, how long the spill will last, and how far the oil will travel.

Analysts estimate that BP's total liability for the environmental catastrophe, including the cleanup, compensation claims, government penalties, and a host of civil lawsuits, could reach 30 to 100 billion dollars.

The firm's share price has fallen more than 40 percent since the Deepwater Horizon rig it leased exploded on April 20, prompting speculation about bankruptcy and a takeover bid.

© 2010 AFP

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