Game on! Obama Takes BP to Court Over Gulf Oil Spill

  • Published on December 15th, 2010

BP's Deepwater Rig on fire in the Gulf of Mexico

It was the biggest environmental disaster in US history, and now the Obama Justice Department is taking BP to court.

BP and four other companies are being sued under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, which say that if they pollute, they have to pay for the cleanup.

BP may have to pay penalties of $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. The government’s last official number for the spill was 4.9 million barrels, but that could still be a low-ball estimate.

“We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses and environmental damages without limitation,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The other defendants named are:

  • Transocean Ltd. (via subsidiaries), the owner/operators of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig
  • QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036, Transocean’s insurers
  • BP Partners Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and MOEX Offshore 2007

Halliburton, the contractor who did the cement work that may have failed, wasn’t named in this suit.

Our sister blog, Gas 2.0, has a good summary of the charges:

  • Failing to take necessary precautions to keep the Macondo well under control in the period leading up to the 20 April explosion
  • Failing to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions
  • Failing to maintain continuous surveillance
  • Failing to use and maintain equipment and material that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources and the environment

Not my fault!

BP’s answer to the suit was, well, weird.

In a statement they said:

“The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit.”

Which, is, you know, why we have courts. And trials. And the process will be determining liability, and “finding that the allegations have merit.”

Here’s the full statement:

“As expected, the federal government today filed a civil suit against statutorily defined ‘responsible parties’ under the Oil Pollution Act in order to preserve its procedural rights under the court’s case management orders to seek civil remedies resulting from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit. BP will answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries.

Alone among the parties, BP has stepped up to pay for the clean-up of the oil, setting aside $20 billion to pay all legitimate claims. We took these steps before any legal determination of responsibility and will continue to fulfill our commitments in the Gulf as the legal process unfolds.”

This is just the beginning. There are civil lawsuits already in place, which the government could join. And the Justice Department is also investigating whether criminal charges are warranted – in addition to the massive devastation and economic losses, 8 workers were killed in the explosion that started the spill.

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.