BP is to set aside 20 billion dollars, that is 16 billion euros, in a compensation fund for victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The news was announced as BP executives met President Obama at the White House.
It was the first time since the rig blew up two months ago, leading to the disaster, that the President had met BP bosses face to face.
Afterwards he said businesses that had suffered economic losses because of the spill would be able to claim.
Barack Obama said:
“This 20 billion dollars will provide substantial assurance the claims people and businesses have will be honoured. It is also important to emphasise, this is not a cap. The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligation to them… This fund does not supercede either individual rights or state’s rights to present claims in court.”
The fund will be administered independently. BP also agreed not to pay dividends to shareholders this year. The company has been accused of flouting procedures before the explosion on the rig that killed 11 oil workers, leading to the worst environmental disaster in US history. Now it was time to say sorry.
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the American people on behalf of all the employees of BP,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.
President Obama also has plans for new energy laws designed to tighten regulation of the oil industry and shift the US away from its reliance on fossil fuels.
BP is capturing a proportion of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico after placing a cap over the leaking pipe. It has begun operating a second containment system designed to bring oil and gas to the surface for burning.
Government scientists estimate up to 60,000 barrels a day could be leaking into the Gulf, far more than was originally thought.