Despite Outrage at BP After Gulf Oil Spill, Company Still Key to Solving Crisis

BP is under a federal criminal investigation and could face civil and criminal litigation stemming from the massing oil spill in the gulf, yet the oil giant also continues to be the go-to-guy for stopping the very catastrophe it is blamed for creating.

And despite talk of replacing BP in the cleanup operation with a more "reputable" firm, energy analysts say that option isn't realistic.

"I don't think it makes sense," Mark Kellstrom, an analyst with Strategic Energy Research, told "For all of the criticism that BP has endured in the press, I would say that they have probably gone about the control effort as best they could. And if I'm another major oil company who is potentially suffering along with BP, I'm still not going to be interested in stepping in their shoes because … you're potentially assuming liability.

"Second, if a third-party company was unable to solve the issue, they're going to get dragged down in the mud with everyone else," he said. "The only alternative to removing BP is the government itself."

But the Obama administration's point man on the oil spill rejected this week the notion of removing BP and taking over the crisis, saying the government has neither the company’s expertise nor its deep-sea equipment.

“To push BP out of the way would raise a question: To replace them with what?” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is heading the federal response to the spill, said at a White House briefing on Monday.

Allen said federal law dictates that BP must head the cleanup, with the government overseeing its efforts.

“They’re exhausting every technical means possible to deal with that leak,” he said. “I am satisfied with the coordination that’s going on.”

Allen said BP and the government are working closely together, with the government holding veto power and adopting an “inquisitorial” stand toward the company’s ideas. Allen also said the government has the authority to tell BP what to do, and such orders carry the force of law.

But as the government keeps an eye on BP's cleanup operation, it is also investigating the company for potential criminal offenses.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said the laws under review for the criminal and civil probes include the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. He said the government would pursue criminal charges "if warranted," a caveat he did not include for civil action.

"We will ensure that every cent ... of taxpayer money will be repaid and that damage to the environment and wildlife will be reimbursed," he said.

Washington lawyer Stan Brand said that two likely criminal law theories the Justice Department would pursue are false statements to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service and obstruction by failing to produce evidence to investigators.

But Brand and longtime Washington lawyer Stephen Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and ex-congressional investigator, predicted it will be difficult to prove criminality.

"Bad business judgment isn't a crime," Ryan said.

Meanwhile, the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore oil drilling, has been accused of all kinds of wrongdoing, including letting BP slide on permits, but no one is under investigation.

Kellstrom said the government isn't interested in spotlighting the black eye it has taken along with BP.

"I can't see it being in their interest to dig into the MMS and highlight any further shortcomings of the agency than they already have," he said.