OIL giant BP warned the financial impact on the group of the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil leak would be “severe”.
But embattled BP bosses told worried investors and pension savers they would “meet our obligations” amid fears the group was preparing to slash its dividend.
At a briefing with BP shareholders and analysts, chief executive Tony Hayward said it would be another 48 hours before it is clear if latest attempts to contain the oil leak are working.
The group is facing fierce criticism of its response to the disaster from US President Barack Obama, who said he was “furious” about the oil spill and accused BP of not responding quickly enough.
Dividends are seen as crucial for investors and Britain’s pension funds, accounting for about £1 in every £7 of UK blue chip dividend income each year.
BP said: “We fully understand the importance of our dividend to our shareholders.
“Future decisions on the quarterly dividend will be made by the board – as they always have been – on the basis of the circumstances at the time.
“All factors will be considered and the decision taken in the long term interests of the shareholders.”
Mr Tony Hayward said: “The financial consequences of this incident will undoubtedly be severe, but BP is a strong company and we have weathered many storms before.”
BP has already spent more than £682m on containment and clean-up efforts since the the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank on April 20, killing 11 workers.
It said spending was set to continue at this rate “for some time beyond” work to stop the flow of oil.
BP hopes immediate costs for cleaning up and plugging the leak will largely be taken by the end of 2010, but stressed the long-term costs were still unknown.
The firm aims to provide more details on costs when it releases second quarter figures on July 27.
BP is also due to announce its next shareholder dividend on that day – but is scheduled to pay out a previously announced dividend before then, on June 22.
Mr Hayward said the incident was a “complex accident brought about by an unprecedented combination of failures”.