BP eyes stake sale as spill cost tops $3 bln

LONDON/KUWAIT Mon Jul 5, 2010 8:22pm IST

Smoke rises from the BP oil spill site, as natural gas is burned off, while the drilling of two relief wells continue in the Gulf of Mexico, July 4, 2010.    REUTERS/Lyle W. Ratliff

Smoke rises from the BP oil spill site, as natural gas is burned off, while the drilling of two relief wells continue in the Gulf of Mexico, July 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lyle W. Ratliff

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LONDON/KUWAIT (Reuters) - Shareholders in British oil company BP balked at reports it would seek urgent investment from a wealthy Middle East or Asian country as clean-up costs for its U.S. oil spill topped $3 billion.

Over the weekend, while U.S. Independence Day holidaymakers shunned Gulf of Mexico beaches tarred by the leaking well, media reports said BP was looking for a strategic investor among the sovereign wealth funds of the Middle East and Asia.

An investor would help ward off a takeover and raise funds for the liabilities racking up behind the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the reports said.

BP shares rose 4.35 percent in London to 336.95 pence at 1345 GMT after the reports, but some shareholders balked at the idea of a strategic investor.

"We don't think a strategic partner is at all necessary," said one top-10 BP shareholder who did not want to be named. "We think this is just people trying to panic the company and stampede into doing something to earn huge fees from selling new shares in BP. Shareholders will be saying 'No, thank you' to this and we have communicated this to the company."

Another top-10 investor agreed that BP "probably did not" need a strategic investor at the moment.

For full spill coverage link.reuters.com/hed87k

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Britain's Sunday Times said BP's advisers were trying to drum up interest among rival oil groups and sovereign wealth funds to take a stake of between 5 and 10 percent in the company at a cost of up to 6 billion pounds ($9.1 billion). BP declined to comment.

One former investment director at a Dubai-based state investment company said it was a predictable move for BP to seek a strategic investor, but he doubted it would find one among the oil rich sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) of the Middle East.

A London banker said any SWF involvement might more likely involve the Far East than the Middle East.

Separately, several newspapers reported interest among SWFs in buying some of BP's assets in the Middle East and Asia. BP has said it hopes to raise $10 billion from asset sales this year as part of its plan to fund a $20 billion clean-up fund set up under pressure from U.S. authorities.

Arabic language daily al-Jarida was most specific, saying state-run Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co (KUFPEC) is reviewing investing in oil fields in Egypt, Yemen and east Asia.

BP shares have lost more than half their market value since the worst U.S. oil spill in history struck on April 20, the result of an explosion on a drilling rig that caused a well to rupture and spew millions of gallons of crude into the sea.

Attempts to stop the flow have been unsuccessful, with BP now pinning hopes on a relief well that should be complete in August.

CAPTURE AND BURN

Some oil is being captured through a pipe, while some is being burned off. BP said it collected or burned 25,195 barrels on Saturday but estimates of the total amount flowing go as high as 100,000 barrels a day.

BP said on Monday it had so far spent $3.12 billion on the response effort, including $147 million paid out in claims to those affected by the disaster. Plans are being developed for additional containment capacity, it said.

Skimmer vessels have been out in force -- a fleet of 89 was watched returning from their efforts through Biloxi Bay channel on Sunday -- but the hurricane season has hampered efforts and high seas were preventing most from operating.

A super tanker adapted to scoop oily water from the surface was still being tested by Coastguard officials just north of the well site, said Bob Grantham, spokesman for TMT Shipping Offshore, which operates the vessel, named "A Whale".

"Once the effects of Hurricane Alex on wave action have sufficiently passed, we will be able to test skimming operations with an important boom system deployed to draw and direct more oily water in the direction of the A Whale's intake jaws," Grantham said.

TMT hopes that once the ship has passed the test it will secure a skimming contract that could enhance the total capacity of the containment operation to remove oil pollution from the water.

The impact on the Gulf of Mexico tourist industry was evident on Sunday, the 76th day of the disaster, as dozens of workers picked up tar balls along Pensacola Beach.

"It's ... sad to see the beach is not as crowded as it normally is, there's not as many people here. Not as many people in the restaurants. Very sad because you know they need the business," said Derek Robbins, a tourist from Houston who has been coming to Pensacola every year for decades.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that BP was facing fresh criticism over its approach to safety as it emerged it did not use an industry standard process, known as a safety case, to assess risk at the Deepwater Horizon rig.

A BP spokeswoman confirmed that it did not use the procedure, developed in Britain after the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in 1988, at any of its U.S. wells because it was not legally required to do so in the United States.

A federal court last week lifted a six-month drilling ban imposed by the Obama administration. A new moratorium now being sought through the courts is expected to be more flexible and could be adjusted to allow drilling in certain subsea fields.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Reich in Pensacola Beach, Fla., Leigh Coleman in Biloxi, Mississippi, Matthew Bigg in New Orleans, Shaheen Pasha and Dinesh Nair in Dubai, Victoria Howley and Matt Scuffham in London; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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