GAO: Macondo spill claims pass 60% of OPA liability cap

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 21 -- The US Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center, which administers the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund established under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, has obligated or incurred $625.9 million in costs involved with responses to the Macondo deepwater well blowout and oil spill as of Mar. 31, the Government Accountability Office said in an Apr. 18 report.

GAO said NPFC officials have not estimated when costs will reach the $1 billion/incident cap under OPA. “However, they stated that there is a significant risk the cap could be reached in fiscal 2011 as agencies continue to conduct significant removal activities” related to the spill, it added.

The report noted that the federal government’s ultimate financial exposure will continue to be linked closely with BP PLC and other responsible parties’ actions. “BP has committed to paying costs related to the spill, even to the extent such costs exceed the $20 billion it has agreed to set aside,” it said, adding that the multinational oil company, which was Macondo’s operator, made quarterly payments totaling $6.25 billion through March on the $20 billion trust.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which BP established to handle claims from individuals and businesses affected by the spill, paid $3.7 billion on more than 280,000 claims from the trust as of Mar. 31, GAO said.

The report was the second of three that GAO plans to issue about Macondo well spill claim payments under the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. It said in its first report in November 2010 that Congress might want to consider setting a fund cap per incident based on net expenditures (expenditures less reimbursements).

“Since that report, expenditures have continued to be paid from the fund and continue to approach the legislated cap,” the new report said. Given that outlays may reach that cap, it continued, GAO reiterated its recommendation that Congress either amend OPA or enact new legislation that changes the calculation of expenditures made against the fund’s $1 billion/incident cap to take into account reimbursements from responsible parties.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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