David Prosser: A rare morale boost for embattled BP

  • @davidprosserind

Outlook Good news has been in shortsupply for BP of late, but yesterday's report from a group of US regulators will have given thecompany a boost. It concluded, like several other reports before it, that last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster was the fault of all of the companies and contractors involved rather than being the sole responsibility of BP (as the hysterical reaction towards the British company from US politicians might have suggested).

The apportionment of blame matters – and not just in the interests of justice. For BP remains at the centre of a Department of Justice investigation into the oil spill in the Gulf – it is one that will eventually result in a very sizeable fine for the company. Exactly how sizeable remains to be seen, but were the DoJ to conclude that BP had been solely responsible for the accident, the penalty for such gross negligence could be as high as $21bn (£13.3bn) – more than twice the maximum sum BP seems to be setting aside for a fine in its provisions for the disaster.

Not that there is much to celebrate in yesterday's report, which accuses BP of some pretty awful corporate misdeeds – not the least of which is that it ignored its own safety rules in order to cut costs. And the DoJ fine may yet be higher than BP expects, because there is no agreement about exactly how much oil was spilled last year.

Still, this report will make it easier for BP to return to the Gulf of Mexico and reassure shareholders that their dividends, finally restored earlier this year, are making more than a fleeting appearance. It will also strengthen BP's case in its legal actions with the other parties involved in the spill – not least Halliburton, whose share price dipped noticeably on publication of the report yesterday, while BP's price rose.