BP has become embroiled in an acrimonious slanging match with one of the US Gulf states most affected by pollution from the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 with the two sides trading blows over the oil company’s cleanup record.
A senior BP executive has accused the leaders of Louisiana of “political grandstanding” and making “patently false assertions” about the environmental record of the group since the spill.
The row reflects BP’s growing frustration after it failed again to persuade a judge it could limit compensation payments on the grounds of fraud and remains mired in a civil legal case with the US department of justice over the Macondo well.
Geoff Morrell, BP’s vice-president of US communications, responded to critical comments made by Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, and one of his top officials, Garret Graves, at a meeting of the Gulf Coast restoration council. “Their political grandstanding contains patently false assertions, defies the demonstrated record of environmental recovery that has occurred across the Gulf, and defames the massive efforts of tens of thousands of people to foster prompt recovery and restoration,” said Morrell.
It was an outburst that, coming after the relatively sober comments made by BP in the past, triggered an immediate response from Graves, showing neither side is in the mood for compromise.
“BP is not a victim of this disaster. No matter what they say or do, the families of the deceased and the citizens of the Gulf are the victims and we are going to fight to hold BP accountable for their actions. BP’s campaign to portray themselves as the victim is shameless,” he said in a response emailed to the Associated Press.
“For BP executives to try to call our concerns ‘grandstanding’ is laughable. They caused the worst oil spill in our nation’s history, are doing the worst cleanup in our nation’s history and we should sit idle and let them continue?”
During the restoration council meeting, Jindal had said BP had focused too much on its image and needed to turn its attention to covering restoration costs.
He argued the oil company needed to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its public relations campaign “telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Damage liabilities now”.
But Morrell said that overall to date BP had spent more than $26bn (£17bn) on response, cleanup and claims, adding: “Repeated assertions that we have spent more money on advertising than this are grossly in error and seem purposefully intended to mislead the public.”
Oil industry executives with close links to BP said the company was happy to “step up the rhetoric” rather than continue to be used as a whipping post despite its financial commitments to help the southern states.
It followed guidance given by Bob Dudley, BP’s group chief executive, at the release of the company’s recent financial results when he admitted BP was digging in for a long battle in the New Orleans courts over civil charges.
BP had previously indicated it should be able to reach a reasonable out-of-court settlement with the department of justice, but its optimism has continually been shown to be misplaced.
The London-based group was also hopeful it could obtain a court ruling to halt compensation payments amid its claims of fraud, but Judge Carl Barbier ruled there was no credible evidence to support those claims.
Earlier this month the US federal energy regulatory commission (FERC) ordered BP to respond to allegations of natural gas market manipulation in Texas, threatening the energy company with fines of almost $29m.
FERC pointed to a two-minute recorded conversation between a BP trainee and a senior gas trader as evidence that BP bought and sold gas at a possible loss in the physical market in order to increase the value of its derivatives position.
“These allegations are without merit and we stand by what we previously disclosed publicly in February 2011 – that BP natural gas traders did not engage in any market manipulation in late 2008. BP is disappointed that the FERC has brought this action and we will vigorously defend against these allegations,” the company said.
Almost 5m barrels of oil gushed out of the stricken Macondo well in the US Gulf of Mexico, and BP has spent nearly $26bn (£16.8bn) on compensation and the clean-up.