Deepwater Horizon Spill Could Cost Insurers $3.5B: Moody's

NU Online News Service, June 3, 1:55 p.m. EDT The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could cost insurers up to $3.5 billion, Moody's said, but A.M. Best affirmed the oil rig owner's captive insurer rating despite the losses it faces.

With millions of gallons of oil per day spilling into the Gulf of Mexico since April 22, threatening wetlands and fisheries and the death of 11 crew members, the Deepwater Horizon disaster appears to be far from over and Moody's today put the current total insured loss estimate between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion.

Moody's noted that insured losses would be significantly higher if BP plc, the operator and majority owner of the project, had purchased liability insurance in the commercial market instead of self-insuring its risks through its captive insurer, Jupiter Insurance Ltd., for property and liability coverages.

Moody's said the captive substantially reduces the exposure of the commercial reinsurance and insurance industry to the event. And given the magnitude of the potential costs associated with the clean-up and other compensatory payments, Moody's said it is possible that other parties found liable will exhaust the limits of their insurance policies, shifting any additional costs back to the project participants.

Meanwhile, A.M. Best Co. said today it has revised the outlook of Jupiter to negative from stable. It affirmed the financial strength rating of "A-plus (Superior)" and the issuer credit rating of "aa-minus" of Jupiter, domiciled in Guernsey.

Best said the negative outlook reflects concerns over the potential impact on BP from the ongoing oil spill. Given the magnitude of this event, Best said it is currently impossible to assess the impact on BP, in terms of both financial liabilities and reputational damage.

Because significant uncertainties are likely to remain for some time to come, Best said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Best also noted it considers that the financial position of Jupiter will likely remain strong following the incident. Although Jupiter has established loss reserves at its policy limit of $700 million, risk-adjusted capital still soundly supports the rating level.

Moody's observed in its report that claims from the disaster will come from a number of lines, including: marine hull, marine liability, general liability, environmental/pollution liability, control of well, business interruption, D&O liability and workers' compensation.

With several parties involved in the drilling work, dozens of class action lawsuits filed and the ultimate extent of environmental damage unknown, the complexities associated with loss claims are significant and could take many years to be resolved, Moody's noted.

Going forward, "we believe that this event will have a meaningful impact on the market for offshore energy-related insurance coverages," Moody's said. The rating agency observed that early reports indicate that property coverages are 15-25 percent higher for rigs operating in shallow waters and up to 50 percent higher for deepwater rigs.

With hurricane season approaching, any additional losses in the Gulf of Mexico this year could further bolster pricing for this subclass. Likewise, Moody's continued, pricing for offshore energy liability insurance is sure to trend higher as insurers and reinsurers take stock of their losses and reevaluate the complex risks associated with drilling in deep waters.

Several firms are involved in drilling the deepwater oil well at Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico, Moody's said.

These include:

o BP (operator and 65 percent working interest in the project).

o Anadarko (25 percent working interest).

o Mitsui (10 percent working interest).

o Transocean (owner of the rig and drilling contractor).

o Halliburton and Smith International (drilling services providers).

o Cameron International (manufacturer of blow-out preventer).

In addition, Insurance Information Institute President Robert Hartwig has put together a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation on the insurance implications of the Deepwater rig disaster, available at www.iii.org/presentations/Deepwater-060210/.

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