BP Oil Spill Lawsuit Filed by US Justice Department

As expected, the US Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit in connection with the BP oil spill. In addition to BP Exploration and Production Inc., the federal lawsuit names eight other companies as defendants.

In announcing the BP oil spill lawsuit, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department intends to prove that the defendants are responsible – under the Oil Pollution Act – for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages. The federal government is also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the unauthorized discharge of oil into the nation’s waters.

The defendants named in the lawsuit include:

• BP Exploration and Production Inc.;
• Anadarko Exploration & Production LP;
• Anadarko Petroleum Corporation;
• MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC;
• Triton Asset Leasing GMBH;
• Transocean Holdings LLC;
• Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc.;
• Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and
• QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036.

According to an Associated Press report, Anadarko and MOEX are minority owners of the well that blew out. Transocean owned the rig that BP was leasing. QBE/Lloyd’s can be held liable only up to the amount of insurance policy coverage under the Oil Pollution Act and is not being sued under the Clean Water Act.

Halliburton Co., which designed and pumped the cement used in the well, wasn’t named in the lawsuit.

In the complaint, the US alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations, including:

• Failure to take necessary precautions to secure the Macondo Well prior to the April 20th explosion;

• Failure to utilize the safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s condition;

• Failure to maintain continuous surveillance of the well; and

• Failure to utilize and maintain equipment and materials that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, property, natural resources, and the environment.

The suit seeks penalties of between $1,100 and $4,300 “for each barrel of oil that the defendants discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.” As we’ve reported previously, it is estimated that nearly 5 millions of oil spilled into the Gulf between the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and July 15, when the well was capped. If gross negligence is proven, the defendants could end up paying penalties as high as $21 million.

Hundreds of civil lawsuits filed by Gulf Coast residents impacted by the BP oil spill have been consolidated in the New Orleans federal court, where the Justice Department also filed its civil lawsuit. The states of Alabama and Louisiana also have suits pending in that litigation. According to Reuters, the Justice Department wrote to the court in September to say it might join the litigation and it requested a special “track” just for government lawsuits. US District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the consolidated litigation, has yet to rule on that request.

According to a New York Daily News report, Transocean signaled it would fight the suit, saying well owner BP should shoulder the blame. BP did not have an immediate response to the filing of the suit.

In addition to the civil lawsuit, Holder said yesterday that a criminal probe of the disaster continues.

The BP oil spill was the worst oil spill in US history. The April blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 men.

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