BP investors sue over Mexican Gulf oil bath

The oil spill mess just gets worse for BP - now it's being sued by its own shareholders.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As if trying to stop the Gulf of Mexico filling up with escaped crude isn’t enough to deal with, a group of BP shareholders is now suing the oil giant over the huge loss they've taken on the spill.

The legal action makes embarrassing reading: as well as financial redress, they're also demanding improvements to BP's governance and oversight, putting bosses firmly in the firing line. The comapny's repeated attempts to stem the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well, plus the fact that BP has just committed a further $500m to in depth research on the incident, all suggests it still hasn't worked out exactly what happened or how to stop it. Which is not going to make the locals feel any more kindly towards them when the oil finally starts washing up in quantity on the Louisiana coastline…

The most important consequences of the accident have been the deaths of those 11 workers, plus the untold environmental damage still to come. But it will also have huge financial implications for BP and its shareholders: some £40m has been wiped off the company's share price already, and the final clean-up bill (including liability for damage and so on) is likely to run into the billions of dollars.

Even for a company the size of BP, that's a potentially perilous financial shock. And the problem isn't going away. BP said today it has shared the initial findings of its investigation with the US Department of Justice. This is the most detailed evidence yet from the firm and cites 'multiple failures', but it still looks like there's a way to go before they conclusively figure out what went wrong.

Then there’s the reputational cost, which could be immense. This legal action certainly won’t help boss Tony Hayward to tackle that side of things, since the plaintiffs' case isn't just about money – it has the potential to put the whole of BP's management set-up and culture under the microscope, likely to be a serious embarrassment at the very least.

It doesn’t look like Hayward can expect any quarter from the US government either, which has made its displeasure with the amount of time BP is taking to plug the ocean-floor leak abundantly clear.

Everyone from the President down seems to be pretty ticked off, and who can blame them? Obama has blamed the spill on a 'breakdown of responsibility' at BP, and hinted that the firm could be locked out of any new US contracts if things carry on this way. Until there is some more positive news from the engineers working to tackle the leak, there’s not much for BP bosses to be cheerful about here…

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