May 16, 2010 / 9:38 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-BP responds to U.S. request to clarify liability

(Adds background on liability)

HOUSTON, May 16 (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L) on Sunday said its public statements to date are “absolutely consistent” with the Obama administration’s request for the London-based oil giant to clarify its legal liability for paying to clean up a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Top Obama administration officials on Saturday demanded “immediate public clarification” from BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward over BP’s intentions about paying cleanup costs.

“What they are requesting in the letter is absolutely consistent with all our public statements on the matter,” BP spokesman David Nicholas said.

At issue is a U.S. law that limits energy companies’ liability for lost business and local tax revenues from oil spills to $75 million.

“The public has a right to a clear understanding of BP’s commitment to redress all of the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the oil spill,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in a letter to Hayward.

BP executives including Hayward have repeatedly said that the London-based energy giant will pay all “legitimate claims” related to the spill.

“We are taking full responsibility for the spill and we will clean it up, and where people can present legitimate claims for damages we will honor them,” Hayward told Reuters in an interview on April 30.

Salazar and Napolitano said in their letter: “Based on these statements, we understand that BP will not in any way seek to rely on the potential $75 million statutory cap to refuse to provide compensation to any individuals or others harmed by the oil spill.”

The spill could prove to be one of the most devastating environmental disasters the United States has ever faced, and experts have pegged BP’s potential legal liability in the billions of dollars.

Nearly 100 lawsuits have already been filed across the Gulf region and lawyers envision the disaster becoming one of the biggest class actions in U.S. history.

Reporting by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Sandra Maler

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