BP vs. Justice Department?


It was more than interesting that the Wall Street Journal is reporting a BP “push back” on U.S. Justice Department requests for advance notice of any unusual asset sales, and it says a lot about the oil giant’s long-term plans. Hint: It ain’t good for us.

Here’s the background from a quick overview of the weekend coverage: BP declined to comment on reports that it’s looking to sell some $12 billion worth of assets to Houston’s Apache Corp. The Sunday Times of London broke the story. The paper, also without naming names, reported that ExxonMobil Corp. had approached the Obama administration for clearance to make a takeover offer for BP.

BP refused comment on those reports. On the “push-back” report, it told the New York Times that a reply would be made in “due course.” Translation: when we get around to it.

The Justice Department is concerned, about other things, BP dumping a bunch of American assets for cash in advance of a potential bankruptcy filing … it’s a common enough tactic for companies about to bail on their responsibilities. My guess is that if BP makes such a move, it might be only with a long-term eye at making potential bankruptcy a better bargaining chip down the road.

It’s also good to remember that it wasn’t just BP getting that Justice Department attention, it was also Transocean and Haliburton and a couple of other companies.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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