Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which owns a quarter of BP's blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, on Friday blasted BP for "reckless decisions and actions" that it said led to the well's explosion.
Joining in the torrent of criticism of the British oil giant as it seeks to escape the huge financial liability, Anadarko said that BP's behavior before the blowout likely represented "gross negligence or willful misconduct."
"We will be looking at our contractual remedies based on the information that we have already received about the behaviors and practices on the well in the finishing days," Anadarko Chief Executive James Hackett told Reuters.
BP, the well's operator and 65 percent owner, said it "strongly disagreed" with Anadarko's allegations, which cap a week in which some top oil executives sought to land the blame for the worst U.S. oil disaster at BP's door.
Hackett said in a statement issued earlier that "mounting evidence clearly demonstrates" that the disaster that led to the explosion and sinking of a drilling rig and the deaths of 11 workers "was preventable and the direct result of BP's reckless decisions and actions."
Anadarko is BP's 25 percent owner in the well, and BP said in a statement that co-owners must share in the cost of operations, "including the cost to clean up any spill" resulting from drilling the well.
But Hackett told Reuters that more information about signs of serious trouble during the drilling operation keep emerging, such as problematic tests and departures from standard practices.
He said Anadarko would have done things differently.
"This appears to be pilot error," Hackett said, using a plane crash analogy.
"We were not on the rig, and we were not consulted about the practices and procedures used on the rig floor," Hackett said. "A very important part of what we trust an operator to do in our business, is we trust them to work in the best interests of the other workers and owners."
Hackett said his company was "shocked" by the information disclosed in investigations that showed BP "operated unsafely and failed to monitor and react to several critical warning signs" while drilling the well.
The Times of London reported earlier Friday that Anadarko would make a $45 million dividend payout to shareholders next week. BP has suspended this year's dividend.
Companies typically have one or more partners for deepwater operations to share the high cost and risk, but operators do the work while partners contribute to costs and reap their percentage of profit from oil and gas sold.
BP had said on Wednesday it expected its partners in the well, including Anadarko and 10 percent owner Mitsui & Co. to meet their legal obligations.
In a statement issued late Friday, BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward said Anadarko's allegations "will neither distract the company's focus on stopping the leak nor alter our commitment to restore the Gulf coast."
"Other parties besides BP may be responsible for costs and liabilities arising from the oil spill, and we expect those parties to live up to their obligations," Hayward added. "But how the costs and liabilities are eventually allocated between various parties will not affect our unwavering pledge to step forward in the first instance to clean up the spill and pay all legitimate claims in an efficient and fair manner."
BP reported progress Friday in drilling the first of two relief wells to plug the massive leak.
Kent Wells, senior vice president of exploration and production, said the first relief well being drilled is within 200 feet of the blown-out well. The aim is for one or both relief wells to intersect with the leaking well to pump in heavy drilling fluids and cement.
BP hopes that the relief wells now being drilled will halt the leak in August.
The U.S. Coast Guard official leading the federal relief effort also said BP had increased the amount of oil it was siphoning off from to 25,000 barrels on Thursday. It was the highest amount yet collected by BP.
But putting that figure in context, Adm. Thad Allen said 35,000 barrels a day, and possibly as much as 60,000 barrels, were gushing into the sea from the well, which ruptured after an April 20 explosion on an offshore oil rig that killed 11 workers.
The spill has idled much of the U.S. Gulf Coast's multibillion-dollar fishing industry and seeped into ecologically sensitive marches and wetlands despite the efforts of an army of workers to keep it at bay with oil-soaking booms.
Kenneth Feinberg, the man picked by President Barack Obama to oversee a $20 billion claims fund set up by BP at the White House's urging, visited the Gulf coast states of Mississippi and Louisiana on Friday.
Feinberg, who administered a federal fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, pledged in a statement that he would work tirelessly to provide "prompt, appropriate" compensation to victims of the disaster.
His appointment followed a barrage of complaints from Gulf Coast residents that the BP claims process has been too bureaucratic and has paid out too little money.
The House Judiciary Committee says that data it has collected shows that BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted by people and businesses arising from the spill.
The committee said Friday that only $71 million out of an estimated $600 million had been paid as of Tuesday. In addition, the panel said that BP didn't make any payments in the first two weeks following the explosion and oil spill.
Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers said he's concerned that BP "is stiffing too many victims and shortchanging others."
The committee said BP hasn't made a single payment for bodily injury or diminished home property value. BP officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
BP said it has paid a higher percentage of claims than was indicated by data from the House committee. As of Friday, BP spokesman Scott Dean said the dollar value of payouts was $95 million.
Dean also said that the company has paid about half of the 60,000 claims made so far. In other words, the company has cut 30,000 checks.
The likely cost of cleanup, compensation and fines has almost halved the value of BP, once Britain's biggest company.
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, in an interview with Sky News television, said Friday the company remains in a strong financial position despite the market uncertainty that has followed the spill.
He also said that Hayward, the firm's chief executive, is handing over the day-to-day handling of the spill to managing director Bob Dudley.
BP had already announced June 4 that Dudley would lead the long-term response to the spill once the leak had been stopped. Svanberg's statement appeared to accelerate that timeline.
"Now (Hayward) has been out there for eight weeks and he is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to Bob Dudley and he will be more home and be there and be here, but I think it has been a difficult period and as long as we don't close the well and take care of this, there will be criticisms about many things," Svanberg told Sky News. "Right now that is our focus to make that happen."
But later Friday, a BP spokesman insisted Hayward is still running the company's spill response.
"Until the acute part of this crisis is over, until the leak is capped, Tony Hayward is still very much in charge in the response of this crisis," BP spokesman Robert Wine said.
On Thursday, Hayward told lawmakers on a U.S. House investigations panel that he was out of the loop on decisions at the well. Both Democrats and Republicans were infuriated when he asserted, "I'm not stonewalling."
It also follows a string of gaffes from the BP chief that made him appear tone-deaf. He was quoted by the Times of London suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims, and later shocked residents in Louisiana by saying that "no one wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
Svanberg said "it is clear that Tony has made remarks that have upset people," but he also defended the chief executive.
"Here is also a man who has (been through) 100 hours of TV time and maybe 500 interviews," he told the broadcaster. He added that Hayward's grilling in Washington was "a very, very difficult hearing to go through."
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior issued a directive to oil and gas lessees and operators requiring them, when they file for a new drilling permit, exploration plan or development plan, to submit information that addresses the possibility of a blowout and steps they take to prevent it.
"The BP oil spill has laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry's ability to prevent and stop catastrophic blowouts," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "While the challenges of intervening in a catastrophic blowout are significantly greater in deep water than in shallow water, all operators should provide basic information about potential blowouts, and steps that are being taken to reduce the possibility of a blowout."
"This is basic information that applicants should be able to provide; it should not delay permitting of appropriate shallow water drilling."