BP: Still Leaking (Updated)

10/09/2012 05:50 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2012
FILE - This April 21, 2010 file photo shows oil in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's
FILE - This April 21, 2010 file photo shows oil in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. The Justice Department says the first criminal charges in the Deepwater Horizon disaster have been filed against a former BP engineer who allegedly destroyed evidence on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. . Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas was arrested on charges of intentionally destroying evidence. He faces two counts of obstruction of justice. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, killing 11 men and spewing 200 million gallons of oil. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

As if BP plc didn't have enough trouble with its Gulf Coast damage settlement (more on that in a moment), Norwegian authorities are investigating a "substantial" oil and gas leak off the coast of Norway. BP's production platform maintenance issues aren't limited to the U.S. Many of its facilities are showing their age.

The company cannot fob this off on employees and affiliates. Part of the cost of doing business is pouring money into maintenance, mothballing facilities that have outlived their useful lives and training and retraining workers in safety protocols.

It's interesting to see the difference between reports in the U.S. and Europe. The Wall Street Journal was apparently taking dictation from BP''s PR department when it reported the leak has been halted and its Norwegian facility is safely shut down. But as for the leak, "it was too early to estimate how much."

Fair enough, but it seems some context is in order. The relevant regulator, the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority, said the problem had "substantial potential." At issue is the safety of BP's production platforms.

New Leak in the Gulf of Mexico?

CNN reported a four-mile-long oil sheen near the spot where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April 2010. That's over the Macondo well, and it's possible that is the source of the leak. It's too early to say BP is responsible, but it's appropriate to ask the question, especially since U.S. Senators have petitioned President Obama in a bipartisan letter to make sure the proposed legal settlement with BP is fair and in accordance with the spirit of the RESTORE Act, designed to help the coastal states damaged by the spill.

The new oil sheen couldn't come at a worse time for BP.

Disclosure: I own puts on BP and a minor position in legacy shares.

Note: In an earlier version I called BP plc "British Petroleum." In my former life as a chemical engineer, I worked in one of Amoco's refineries and still think of British Petroleum as the takeover winner. After the merger with Amoco, the decision was made to call the combined entity BP plc, the correct name of the company.