BP ordered to share partial liability with Transocean in oil spill claims

Judge Carl Barber of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Jan. 27 issued an order that British Petroleum (BP) will be held liable for a portion of the damages owed by Transocean stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP will be required to indemnify Transocean against any damages directly created by the pollution itself that are awarded through the litigation pending against it. BP will not be required to pay any punitive damages or civil fines as a result of these suits. The court did not rule on whether BP or Transocean would be held strictly liable, negligent or grossly negligent for the equipment failure and subsequent oil spill that created the pollution. Transocean is the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that was contracted by BP, which subsequently caused the oil spill. This ruling is separate from a ruling issued by Barber in August, which permits punitive damages against BP, but that ruling pertained to claims brought against BP directly.

Last summer Barber dismissed consolidated racketeering claims against BP in connection with the spill brought under the US Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO). In February of last year, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood asked the district court to order the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) to fulfill its legal obligations to aid victims of the spill and to remedy inadequate claims mechanisms.

Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit in August 2010 against BP for damages to the state’s coast and economy, claiming that the oil giant has failed in its efforts to accept responsibility for the oil spill. In July 2010 a class action lawsuit was filed against the company in a Louisiana state court alleging that its negligent actions led to the spill and that BP was further negligent in its oversight of the cleanup effort, resulting in volunteers falling ill due to inadequate protective equipment. One month prior, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DoJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated by BP.

From Jurist, Jan. 27. Used with permission.

See our last post on the politics of oil spills.

  1. BP oil spill trial postponed
    Judge Carl Barbier of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana postponed the trial over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Feb. 27, hours before it was set to begin, in order to give BP more time to reach a settlement agreement. Barbier adjourned the start of this multi-billion dollar trial after a conference call between the parties a week earlier, in hopes that talks between the parties could produce a settlement. BP could be liable for up to $52 billion in what was the largest accidental oil spill in history, damaging marine life and harming the tourism industry. BP denies gross negligence and urges the court to hold both Transocean [corporate website] and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. jointly liable for their respective roles as owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig and pourer of the concrete that lined the oil well which was destroyed, causing the oil spill. Both BP and Transocean are defendants in the case. If a settlement is not reached, the trial could span the next two years. (Jurist, Feb. 27)

  2. Gulf of Mexico coral damaged in BP oil spill
    From AFP, March 28:

    The 2010 BP oil spill that spewed from a broken well on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor damaged coral as far as seven miles (11 kilometers) away, according to a scientific study published on Monday.

    A team of US researchers used underwater vehicles and a process called two-dimensional gas chromatography to match the source of the petroleum hydrocarbons they found with those that emerged from the BP spill.

    PHOTOS: Devastating Oil Spill Disasters

    They found that coral along the seafloor near the well was covered with some sort of brown material and appeared to show signs of tissue damage. A survey of coral 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Macondo well showed no such damage.

    Since sea bed coral lies some 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) below the surface, it is not usually harmed by spills from oil tankers, according to lead study author Helen White, an assistant professor of chemistry at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

    “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted by a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth make it very different from a tanker running aground and spilling its contents,” she said.

  3. Gulf waters closed to shrimpers amid wave of deformities
    Another disturbing report from the blog of New Orleans environmental attorney Stuart Smith, April 23:

    Alarmed by widespread reports of visibly sick, deformed seafood coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, state officials have closed area waters to shrimping this morning (April 23). The waters will be closed indefinitely as scientists run tests in an effort to get a handle on a situation that is fast becoming a full-blown crisis on the Gulf Coast.

    The closures—including all waters in the Mississippi Sound, Mobile Bay, areas of Bon Secour, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon—mark the first official step in responding to increasingly urgent reports from fishermen and scientists of grotesquely disfigured seafood from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.
    The move is yet another major setback for the once-legendary Gulf seafood industry as it continues to struggle under the devastating impact of the BP oil spill, which began in April 2010.

    Two years later, reports of severely deformed shrimp with bulging tumors—and no eyes—have become common.

    And it’s not just the shrimp. Commercial fishermen are reporting red snapper and grouper riddled with deep lesions and covered with strange black streaks. Highly underdeveloped blue crabs are being pulled up in traps without eyes and claws..

    For those who thought 205 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant weren’t going to have an impact on Gulf seafood, you need to check back in with reality.