BP to suspend dividends: Reports

BP will bow to massive US pressure and suspend dividend payments as its potential liability over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill soars, British media reports say.

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The Times newspaper reported on Friday BP was preparing to place the second-quarter dividend money – an expected $US1.7 billion ($A2 billion) – in an escrow account in an attempt to ease political pressure on the firm.

The BBC said BP directors were to meet on Monday to discuss the payments, although the decision was not expected to be announced at least until company bosses meet US President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

Under fire BP CEO Tony Hayward told The Wall Street Journal that the discussions were ongoing, saying: “We are considering all options on the dividend. But no decision has been made.”

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard admiral heading the US response to the nation’s worst ever environmental catastrophe said BP was working to double the amount of oil it could recover from a containment system placed over the leaking well.

Thad Allen said he was reviewing plans from BP to build the system’s capacity so it can collect 40,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil a day by July once a more permanent cap has been placed over the well.

Allen said the current capacity is 28,000 barrels per day but that new processing ships and shuttle tankers were being brought in.

“They’re incrementally building it out,” Allen said. “We will shift to a hard cap that will allow us to capture more.”

A permanent solution will not come before the first of two relief wells is completed, in August at the earliest, allowing the leak to be plugged with cement.

PM Cameron to chat with Obama

Amid fears of an anti-British backlash in the United States over the spill, British Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss BP’s handling of the crisis with Obama over the weekend.

Investors are worried that Obama intends to exact a heavy price from the British energy giant and BP’s share price has fallen more than 40 per cent – wiping tens of billions of dollars off its

market value – since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22.

BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and other company bosses have been summoned to a White House meeting next Wednesday with Obama and senior administration officials.

There was no word on whether Hayward would participate.

Obama, who heads to the Gulf next week for his fourth visit since the disaster, met on Thursday at the White House with relatives of the 11 workers killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20.

Spill response operations were suspended on Friday near a natural gas platform in Cocodrie, southwest Louisiana, after 36 workers were taken to hospital when their supply vessel broke open a gas line while mooring, the Joint Command Centre said.

As a precaution, some 800 response workers aboard 120 vessels were recalled to shore from the area, BP said.