The federal government will soon announce its intention to file a civil lawsuit against BP PLC over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. According to a Reuters report, the suit could be announced by the US Justice Department at a news conference later today.
The BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill, which now ranks as the largest offshore oil disaster in US history, paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coastâ€™s economy, including seafood and tourism.
According to Reuters, the Justice Department is expected to join the hundreds of civil lawsuits that have been filed as a result of the spill and will allege violations of environmental protection regulations. Such charges ould trigger penalties under such laws as the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act. Federal claims could include the destruction of natural resources as well as lost tax and royalty revenue. BP could face civil penalties as high as $20 billion if a court determines there was gross negligence, Reuters said.
Hundreds of civil lawsuits filed by Gulf Coast residents impacted by the BP oil spill have been consolidated in a New Orleans federal court. The states of Alabama and Louisiana also have suits pending in that litigation. According to Reuters, the Justice Department wrote to the court to say it might join the litigation and it requested a special “track” just for government lawsuits.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, if the Justice Department does join the consolidated BP oil spill litigation, it will take on a major role in the case. Joining the litigation could aid the government’s continuing probe into the disaster aimed at building a civil and possibly a criminal case against the companies responsible for the BP oil spill.