Oil spill administrator: Claims lack documentation

GULF OF MEXICO — The administrator of the new claims process for victims of the Gulf oil spill said yesterday most of the individual claims reviewed in the first week lacked the minimal documentation to be paid.

“There are thousands of claims that have been filed with no documentation at all,” Ken Feinberg told state officials at the Southern Governors’ Association convention.

Feinberg took over the claims process from BP Aug. 23. He said 18,900 individual claims were submitted in the first week and all were reviewed. He says payments were authorized to 1,200 individuals totaling about $6 million in emergency compensation.

Payments have already been processed for some and the rest will be done today, he said. Most were for under $25,000. Those who lacked the necessary documentation will be notified and told what type of material they might submit for payment, he said.

Feinberg said profit and loss statements, tax returns and similar documents are not necessarily required. He said minimal proof is all that is needed, and a crew member of a fishing boat might get paid based on a letter from his captain detailing how the worker had been affected.

Businesses submitted 7,400 claims in the first week and their review is next for Feinberg and his staff of 200 reviewers.

“Once a business documents those claims, we will pay those claims within seven days,” he said.

Some Gulf Coast officials expressed concern that claims not be delayed by asking for one form of documentation and then another.

Feinberg said success will depend on the speed of processing claims, which will not be delayed.

Joining Feinberg at the meeting were incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the spill.

BP is one of many companies that helped pay for the governors’ convention. BP officials said the organization has been a corporate affiliate of the Southern Governors’ Association for about 20 years and contributed $50,000 this year.

Riley was the only Gulf Coast governor who heard their comments because the others were elsewhere, including attending observances of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But they sent representatives.

Dudley said the failed blowout preventer on BP’s well should be off and available for inspection by late today or early tomorrow.

He said the equipment will figure into BP’s own internal investigation, and the company’s report on what happened on the rig that exploded on April 20 should be released in about 10 days. The blast killed 11 workers and triggered the massive spill that took three months to stop.

“What’s that being treated as — as it should be — is detailed evidence in the investigation,” he said.

Once the blowout preventer is off and a new one in place, Dudley said less than four feet of drilling is needed to complete the relief well that should be the final step sealing the blown-out well for good. He said it’s best to complete the relief well even though the original is capped and no longer leaking.

He said the relief well will show that engineers can hit the equivalent of a dinner plate at four miles, and it will provide more data about the original well that should be helpful to scientists. Plus, he said there is psychological factor.

“The nation needs a little bit of closure on this, and this will be it,” he said.

He said BP has no plans to try to use the well again or develop the Macondo oil field.

Dudley says BP officials will meet with representatives of Alabama’s governor and attorney general today to discuss the state’s $148 million claim against BP for taxes lost due to the spill.

The attorney general sued BP the same day the governor filed the initial claim, which Dudley said complicated the handling. He said today’s meeting is a get-acquainted session, and he doesn’t expect a resolution.

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