The Obama administration has reached a preliminary agreement with BP executives that would see the oil company pay $20 billion over several years into an independently controlled escrow account to be established to compensate Gulf of Mexico residents affected by the disastrous oil spill, and BP's board of directors has eliminated the company's stock dividend, at least temporarily.
The agreement on the escrow account was negotiated in a meeting at the White House on Wednesday morning, the first face-to-face gathering between President Obama and senior BP leadership. A White House official said that, under the terms of the deal, the fund would be administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, currently serving as the special master for executive pay under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Feinberg ran a fund that compensated victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Immediately after the meeting, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said that the oil company's board of directors has decided not to pay any more dividends this year.
BP has been under intense pressure from the Obama administration to cut or eliminate the $10.5 billion it distributes annually to shareholders. Svanberg, speaking to reporters outside the White House, didn't say how long the dividend would be suspended.
The meeting comes 57 days after the April 20 explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Before Wednesday, Obama had yet to speak with BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward. Half a dozen other BP executives joined a phalanx of Cabinet and senior administration officials in the meeting in the Roosevelt Room. It was not yet known how long the president remained at the meeting. Obama was scheduled to address reporters in the Rose Garden this afternoon.
Wednesday's session was the final piece in a choreographed three-day series of events intended to showcase Obama's handling of the gulf oil crisis. He made his fourth visit to the gulf region, with stops Monday in Mississippi and Alabama and Tuesday in Florida. After returning to Washington, he delivered his first address to the nation from the Oval Office, outlining what he called a "battle plan" for cleaning up the spill, providing assistance for those affected and, ultimately, to "make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again."
BP executives were in Washington for several congressional committee hearings on the oil spill. Hayward is scheduled to testify Thursday morning at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing specifically on the role of BP in the spill.