Is BP Getting Off Cheap, Paying Only $20B?

BP will put the first $5 billion into the claim fund in the second half of the year. They'll be paying for it by eliminating its stock dividend. Anthony Mason, CBS Evening News, June 16, 2010.

Twenty billion is a mighty big number. But if that's all BP has to pay, the oil giant may be getting off cheap.

BP Agrees to Put $20B in Escrow to Pay Claims

BP will put the first $5 billion into the claim fund in the second half of the year. They'll pay for it by eliminating stock dividends to their shareholders. The company will add another $5 billion to the fund over the next three years.

But even as it bleeds more and more oil into Gulf, the energy company is still a massive cash machine.

"They're financially in very strong shape," said Andy Lipow, of Lipow Oil Associates.

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Lipow tells CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason that BP produces two and half million barrels of oil everyday around the world.

"With prices at $75 a barrel, their profits are going to be close to $20 billion a year," Lipow says.

President Obama made a point of mentioning last night that BP has 18 billion barrels in reserve, enough to fuel the U.S. for 2.5 years.

"BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remain so," President Obama said.

As the company's stock has lost nearly half its value, millions of American investors have been punished. "Forty percent of BP's shareholders are United States citizens," says David Buik of BGC Partners.

This includes California's retirement fund, which has held nearly 20 million shares. Philadelphia transit workers are suing BP after seeing their pensions shed 10 percent of their pevious value.

As the costs of the cleanup and claims have mounted, rumors have spread that BP may be forced into bankruptcy.

Analysts caution that, even for a company as big as BP, $20 billion isn't small change.

"It'll cut into the meat and bone of the operation, but they're a long way from the point where they would need to file for bankruptcy," said Geoff Styles of GSW Strategy Group.

The company likes to use the tagline, "Beyond Petroleum." Whatever the ultimate cost of this disaster, it will be hard for the company to get beyond it.

  • Anthony Mason
    Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"