NEW ORLEANS – BP's decision to resume paying dividends rankled Gulf Coast residents Tuesday who saw it as another sign the company wants to move even though many are still suffering from last year's massive oil spill.
Oil stains linger in marshes along Louisiana's fragile coast and tens of thousands of victims are waiting for final payments from a $20 billion compensation fund, while a large number of people haven't received any money at all.
The 7 cents per ordinary share payable to BP shareholders March 28, or about $1.25 billion overall, isn't a lot by BP's standards — its half what the company paid investors for the final quarter of 2009 — but Gulf residents frowned on the idea of going back to business as usual.
"BP has so much money that we can't really fathom it, but BP has to take care of its obligations to us," said Pass Christian, Miss., shrimper Bobby Barnett.
Barnett said London-based BP still owes him compensation, which he has filed for, for damages from a shortened season after the spill halted shrimping in some areas for much of the summer. He's also worried about the long-term effect on Gulf seafood of the dispersants BP used to break up the oil.
"This is a slap in the face to the thousands of victims forced to watch BP line its shareholders' pockets while they struggle to pay their mortgage and put food on the table," said James P. Roy, a lead attorney for plaintiffs suing BP and other companies over the disaster.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu acknowledges that it's up to BP to decide when and how much it pays in dividends to its shareholders.
But, the Louisiana Democrat said, "I intend to hold them accountable for paying every penny they owe to make businesses and families in Louisiana whole again and to repair the damage the spill did to the state's coast and our seafood industry." She is pushing for at least 80 percent of the penalties ultimately charged to BP under the Clean Water Act to be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery.
BP announced in June that it would not pay dividends to shareholders for the rest of 2010 as it sought to get a grip on its huge liabilities from the April 20 rig explosion and oil spill that followed. At the same time, BP agreed to commit $20 billion to a fund to compensate victims of the spill.