BP shareholders have filed a US lawsuit against the oil giant's executives, accusing them of breaching their duty to investors by failing to repair a corroded pipeline at the company's Prudoe Bay oil field in Alaska.
London-based BP announced last week that it had shut down the eastern end of the US' largest oil field after tests identified severe corrosion in one of its pipelines.
While BP has vowed to continue pumping crude oil from the western half of the Alaskan field while it replaces the corroded pipe, the indefinite closure of its eastern end has cut output at the 400,000 barrels-a-day site by 50 per cent, pushing oil prices even higher.
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan's federal court on Monday, accuses BP bosses, including UK-based chief executive John Browne, of failing to take action to address the corrosion, despite being aware of it.
Bringing forward the suit on behalf of the company's other shareholders, lawyers for BP investor Sue Pincus claim that the failure to fund repairs resulted in a major pipeline leak in March of this year, when 6,400 barrels of crude were lost.
The suit suggests that rather than fixing the problem, BP executives chose to "squeeze out every last penny" in profits, "at the expense of properly and safely maintaining the pipeline and the company's future profitability".
"BP now faces hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to remedy the damage, lost earnings, significant civil and criminal liability, regulatory scrutiny and action, and the wrath of customers nationwide," the lawsuit concluded.
Under the legal action, BP shareholders are seeking unspecified monetary damages from the company.