BP plc and other operators involved in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) rig explosion have been asked by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to inform U.S. officials of "any significant corporate actions related to the organization, structure and financial position..." going forward.

In addition to Macondo well operator BP plc, letters were sent on June 23 to BP's well partners Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and MOEX USA, a unit of Mitsui Ltd. Oilfield services provider Halliburton, as well as Transocean Ltd., the rig operator, also were sent letters.

In the letter to BP, Assistant Attorney General Tony West told BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy, who is based in Houston, that the United States "has a compelling interest in ensuring BP does not deplete those assets that would be available to satisfy a judgment should it be found liable to the United States.

"We recognize that BP has accepted responsibility for the spill. We also recognize BP's publicly announced decision to suspend dividend payments for the rest of the year, and to set aside $20 billion in an escrow account..."

However, DOJ asked BP (and the other operators) to provide at least 30 days notice of any authorized, planned or contemplated events "that may involve substantial transfers of cash or other corporate assets outside the ordinary course of doing business by either BP or BP Exploration & Production Inc.," including:

The DOJ letter to Transocean, based in Switzerland, was more detailed than the letter to BP and the other parties. In it, DOJ focused on recent activities that it said were a concern, given the liabilities associated with the GOM disaster.

Transocean was asked to provide information on cash disbursements that "could deplete its ability to satisfy debts to the United States." Transocean has announced plans to repurchase more than $3 billion of its stock, and it also has announced a $1 billion stock dividend program. The company in May told financial analysts it was indemnified against liability for cleanup costs related to the disaster (see NGI, May 10).

"We find troubling the fact that Transocean approved this dividend payment on May 14, 2010, after the events of April 20 and at a time when Transocean was surely aware of the potential liability it faces," West wrote in the letter to Transocean.

The Houston Chronicle, which obtained the DOJ letters in response to a Freedom of Information request, said it also has obtained letters from federal officials that asks Anadarko and the manufacturers of the Deepwater Explorer rig, Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea, to preserve information related to the spill.

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