Gulf oil spill settlement payment offers reach nearly $4B

As BP awaits an appeals court ruling over its challenge to the handling of its  Gulf oil spill class-action settlement, the administrator overseeing the program has offered another $400 million in payments to claimants in the last month alone, putting the total to date at nearly $4 billion.

A report filed Thursday by claims administrator Patrick Juneau shows that most of the increase is from businesses asserting losses for economic damages. Such claims are at the heart of the dispute between BP and Juneau.

The average amount of money being offered to all claimants, as well as to businesses in particular, also increased in the last month, according to the latest tabulation.

Read more: Judges skeptical of BP argument in fight over oil spill claims

The administrator now has  offered $3.97 billion on 48,487 eligible claims, a per-claim average of roughly $81,700. Eligible business economic loss claims offered for payment carried an average award of more than $257,000.

The settlement program so far has received 186,000 claim forms, up from 175,000 in June. About 7 percent have come from businesses, individuals, seafood workers, property owners and vessel operators outside the five Gulf Coast states.

BP says businesses are getting an unfair windfall from the settlement. It alleges the administrator has misinterpreted key terms of the deal that was first consummated in March 2012, resulting in huge payments going to businesses that did not suffer losses.

Earlier this week, questions from a federal appeals court panel in New Orleans suggested the judges wonder if  BP’s financial hemorrhaging might be  the company’s own fault.

The judges also questioned whether they even have jurisdiction to hear BP’s appeal, and they seemed baffled as to how BP could agree to compensate people who weren’t harmed by the disaster.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not said when it will rule on BP’s appeal of a lower court judge’s ruling that Juneau is interpreting the settlement correctly.

BP  originally estimated the settlement, which has no cap, would cost it $7.8 billion. It has stopped estimating its total exposure from the deal because of the dispute with the settlement administrator.

BP owned the undersea oil well that blew out off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, triggering an explosion on the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers. It took nearly three months to cap the runaway well.

Read more: BP asks court to end ‘feeding frenzy’ in Gulf oil spill settlement