Shares in oil giant BP fell nearly 5% yesterday amid fears about possible seepage from its capped Gulf of Mexico well.
Its stock was also hit by speculation about the assets it may sell to pay multibillion-pound costs for its oil spill.
A cap on the ruptured well remained in place last night while tests were carried out to check for new leaks. A discovery of oil seeping near the surface and a possible leak of methane gas raised fears that oil will need to be piped up to ease a build-up of pressure.
BP was ordered by the US government on Sunday to submit a plan to reopen the capped well but was later given an extra 24 hours to step up monitoring.
Reopening the cap would mean three more days of oil spilling into the Gulf.
BP hopes the cap – put in place on Thursday – can stay in place while relief wells are drilled miles beneath the seabed to provide a permanent means of sealing and isolating the damaged well.
The first of the relief wells is expected to be completed by the first half of August.
Shares in BP dipped below £3 last month – their lowest point since August 1996 – but had gained ground until yesterday’s dip to £3.88.
BP said yesterday the Gulf of Mexico disaster, which began when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, killing 11, had so far cost it £2.6billion in clean-up costs.
It said it had paid a total of £136million to settle individual claims for damages along the US southern coast.
Former US coastguard admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the clean-up operation, has told BP it should step up monitoring of the ocean floor.
In a letter to BP managing director Bob Dudley, Mr Allen said: “When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours.”
Meanwhile, directors at the beleaguered oil group are understood to have held discussions with its major shareholders about restructuring the company following the crisis.
Options under consideration are thought to include splitting up the group by selling off its refineries and petrol stations, scaling back its US operations and doing more engineering in-house rather than outsourcing it.
The restructuring would be on top of the sale of about 10% of the group’s assets to help meet the cost of the oil spill.
Discussions with shareholders are said to be at an early stage, but they will be used to help decide the direction of a formal strategic review, which is expected to be launched by the group’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, once the ruptured well is finally sealed.
It is thought the restructuring of BP could leave it a significantly smaller firm, which would focus on exploration in emerging oil regions such as west Africa and Brazil, and lead to it selling off its less profitable downstream (refining and retail) arm.
BP’s downstream business employs about 51,600 people, more than half of the company’s 80,300 workforce, but accounts for just 3% of the firm’s pre-tax profits.