Irrespective of liability, it is worth pondering whose interests a BP bankruptcy would serve. Although based in London, the company has been effectively Anglo-American since its 1998 merger with Amoco – it employs 80,300 people, of whom 29,000 are in the US. Some 40% of its shares are held in the UK, while 39% are held in the US. A collapse of BP would destroy livelihoods, damage pension funds and wipe out savings on both sides of the Atlantic. For critics of "big oil", that's hardly a cause for tears. But BP's failure wouldn't dent America's reliance on fossil fuels even slightly. Ironically, the real beneficiaries would be other big oil companies.
The US government isn't likely to let a Russian, Chinese or Middle Eastern buyer pick up the assets of a crippled BP. The richest, most likely buyer of valuable remnants would be ExxonMobil, which, lest we forget, is a company that defines hardline. Until very recently, Exxon spent millions funding groups that deny global warming. Of all the major energy companies, it has been the slowest to invest in renewable energy – in 2007, it made a profit of $40bn but put just $100m into a research project on wind, solar and green technology. And before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, Exxon was the worst oil-spiller in US history.