Asked about the prospects of a settlement for civil fines, chief executive Bob Dudley said: “At this point it is highly unlikely we are now going to enter into some sort of detailed settlement discussions. Unfortunately some of the circumstances that are happening today suggest that it may be in the best interest of our shareholders now to play it long. It’s not what we wanted to do.”
Mr Dudley added: “Two or three years ago our balance sheet was in difficulties, we were a weaker company and we wanted to settle and put things behind us. We are not going to make any settlements that are not right and we don’t understand all the details of, including how it will be administered. The balance sheet is strong again so this activity could very well go on for a long time.”
Brian Gilvary, BP’s chief financial officer, added that BP would only consider a settlement that “creates closure – as opposed to opening up new avenues”.
Mr Dudley nevertheless defended his decision to sign BP up to the uncapped compensation settlement. “We think we did the right thing. We did it in the spirit we have taken from the very beginning, which was to step up to the obligations from the terrible accident,” he said.
BP had tried to be a “good corporate citizen” and “find win-win solutions, not have people who were damaged by the spill wait 20 years” for compensation. This philosophy had informed BP’s advice to the legal firms who drew up the settlement on its behalf, he said.
“As a company I don’t regret doing that . . . But there does become a point where you say, what has happened is not right. Now you are going to see us vigorously respond and fight.”
With so many BP shareholders in the UK and its dividends so important, “everyone should be unhappy” at the way it was being treated, he said.
BP would try to recoup money from larger businesses which had received unjustified payments, especially law firms that were receiving payments far beyond what the settlement intended. However, BP did not have “any intention of going after the little guy, small businesses who might have received claims”, he said.
Mr Dudley launched a broader attack on the culture of class action suits in the US, which he said were “out of control”. “It is becoming a significant weakness in the US business climate to allow plaintiffs attorneys and class actions on the scale that is occurring now,” he said. “The precedent [of the BP case] is not good for America.”