Environmental Protection

Workers recover oil-filled boom for decontamination as part of the response effort to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

U.S. Names 9 Defendants in Deepwater Horizon Civil Suit

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against nine defendants in the matter of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Dec. 15. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and asks the court to declare eight of the defendants liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources.

The defendants 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.

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.

In the complaint, the United States alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations that caused or contributed to the oil spill that began on April 20, 2010 when an explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles from the Mississippi River delta. This action will become part of the multi-district litigation pending before Judge Barbier in federal court in New Orleans.

The violations named in the complaint say the defendants failed to:

  • take necessary precautions to keep the Macondo Well under control in the period leading up to the April 20th explosion;
  • use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions;
  • maintain continuous surveillance; and
  • 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.

"We intend to prove that these violations caused or contributed to this massive oil spill, and that the defendants are therefore responsible – under the Oil Pollution Act – for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages," Holder said.

The claims for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act allege that the defendants violated the law throughout the months that oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Over the past year, I have visited the gulf region multiple times. I have seen the devastation that this oil spill caused throughout the region – to individuals and families; to communities and businesses; to coastlines, wetlands, and wildlife," Holder said. "Even though the spill has been contained – even though it is no longer the focus of round-the-clock news coverage and the subject of front-page headlines – the department’s focus on investigating this disaster, and preventing future devastation, has not wavered."

Daren Beaudo, BP press officer, released this statement in response to the filing announcement: "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."

BP led the oil disaster response effort. The oil company recently announced that it is selling almost all of its exploration and production assets in Pakistan to United Energy Group Limited and has agreed to sell its interests in Pan American Energy. In early November, the company reported that it had returned to profit in the third quarter of 2010.

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