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Senators push BP to suspend dividend

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- BP should suspend dividend payments to shareholders until the full costs for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can be calculated, two U.S. senators said Wednesday.

In a letter to Tony Hayward, the British oil company's chief executive, Senators Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said paying a dividend before the ultimate cost of the disaster has been tallied would be "unfathomable."

BP paid a dividend of 56 cents per share last year, for a total 2009 payment of $10.5 billion, according to the company's annual report.

According to several published reports, Hayward is scheduled to talk to investors later this week and reassure them that BP will continue to pay its dividend. BP is currently scheduled to make it first-quarter dividend payment to shareholders on June 21.

Schumer and Wyden said they understand the need to reassure investors that the spill will not hurt BP's long term financial health. But they questioned the company's ability to pay the dividend and cover all of the costs associated with the disaster.

"We are concerned that such action to move money off of the company's books and into investors pockets will make it much more difficult to repay the U.S. government and American communities that are working around the clock to stem the damage caused by this devastating oil spill," the senators said.

It remains unclear how much the spill will eventually cost BP. Estimates have ranged from $3 billion to $30 billion. BP said last week it has already spent nearly $1 billion in response to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Shares of BP sank nearly 15% Tuesday after the company's latest attempt to seal the leaking Gulf oil well failed over the weekend. Since the accident happened April 20, BP shares have fallen nearly 40%, wiping out nearly $70 billion in shareholder value.

However, the stock rose 3% Wednesday as shares of energy companies lead a broad-based rally on Wall Street.

BP is currently attempting to contain the flow of oil from the well, located nearly a mile below the surface, after repeated efforts to plug it did not succeed.

BP (BP) did not immediately respond to phone calls for comment about the letter from Schumer and Wyden.  To top of page

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