Anadarko sells its silence for $4 billion

No one can blame Anadarko Petroleum for jumping at the chance to settle claims from last year’s Macondo oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico for $4 billion. For that price, it removes a huge cloud of uncertainty that hung over the company. Unlike Macondo’s operator, BP, Anadarko’s share of the claims could have posed a threat to the company’s future.

But in the early days of the disaster, Anadarko was steadfast in its refusal to settle. It also refused to contribute to the $20 billion spill fund that BP established to pay claims related to the spill. Instead, it accused BP of gross negligence and said the British company’s “reckless decisions and actions” caused the disaster. Even as other partners settled with BP, Anadarko held out.

The tactic obviously worked. As a 25 percent owner in the Macondo well, Anadarko could have been on the hook for $5 billion just for the claims fund alone. With the settlement, it shaves a billion off that obligation, plus BP agreed to waive $6.1 billion that BP sought for cleanup costs. BP also agreed to indemnify Anadarko against almost all past and future costs related to the spill. The settlement doesn’t eliminate Anadarko’s exposure to government fines or penalties or civil liabilities such as punitive damages.

Investors were relieved by the settlement. Anadarko’s shares rose $3.87 Monday, closing at $74.44. The big winner, though, may actually be BP. Both companies were quick to note that the settlement wasn’t an admission of liability by either party, but by buying Anadarko’s silence, BP eliminates that pesky gross negligence claim. Had Anadarko chosen to pursue that and prevailed, it would have been both costly and embarrassing for BP.

Now, the most adamant holdout in the legal aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon is the rig’s owner, Transocean.