The Department of Justice has filed suit against BP, Transocean, and seven other defendants they say are partly responsible for the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
It’s been almost eight months since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig which killed 11 people and allowed more than 200 millions gallons of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.
Although the DOJ has conducted an ongoing civil investigation into the causes and consequences of the spill, some were skeptical that this would ever lead to formal charges that matched the magnitude of the disaster.
In the complaint, the United States alleges that the nine defendants were in violation 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.
“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,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a press conference Wednesday.
“We are also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the unauthorized discharge of oil into the nations waters.”
According to Bloomberg.com, “The Clean Water Act authorizes the U.S. to seek civil penalties of $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled, or in certain circumstances, as much as $4,300 a barrel from the companies involved, government lawyers said in a September filing with court in New Orleans. The government reported in August that 4.9 million barrels were spilled.”
One defendant suspiciously absent from the complaint is Halliburton Co., the contractor in charge of mixing and pumping cement for the Macondo well. Holder did comment that the investigation is ongoing and that more defendants could be added at a later time (AP).
Although the lawsuit is a significant first step in bringing those responsible for the spill to justice, it will be a difficult battle to make the charges stick.
The companies involved have already shown themselves to be unwilling to accept blame for the accident, and the full extent of the damages, both economic and environmental, are still unknown.
Image Credit: Flickr - Infrogmation