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Is Anyone Neutral After the BP Gulf Oil Spill?

Is Anyone Neutral After the BP Gulf Oil Spill?

It is almost a year ago that an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon well started sending oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, we have all watched, with some mix of helplessness, urgency and disbelief, as oil gushed unstoppably into the ocean, appearing later along the southern shore of the United States. In the ongoing paradox that is oil in the United States, the same substance that this country is deeply addicted to for our day to day living became an unrefined destroyer, obliterating natural ecosystems and human livelihoods for hundreds of miles.

In the aftermath of this destruction, BP appointed one Kenneth Feinberg as administrator of their $20 billion fund set aside to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. On the surface, it sounds great — but the way that BP has been talking about Feinberg is as slick as the water. BP routinely refers to him, and he refers to himself, as “neutral” or “independent,” when the reality is that he is appointed by BP and essentially acting on their behalf.

According to a new ruling by a federal judge from New Orleans, from this point forward, Mr. Feinberg and BP will both need to stop referring to him as “neutral.” In addition, BP will need to disclose in all communications of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) that Feinberg and the GCCF are both acting on behalf of BP.

“While BP may have delegated to Mr. Feinberg and the GCCF independence in the evaluation and payment of individual claims, many other facts support a finding that the GCCF and Mr. Feinberg are not completely ‘neutral’ or independent from BP,” said the judge.

On one hand, Mr. Feinberg argues that those who agree to a settlement will receive more money and get it faster than those who join one of the claims pending in Federal court. On the other hand, those who agree to a settlement also agree to not take their claims to court in the future.

Around 87,000 people have accepted a settlement from Feinberg, rather than taking their claim to Federal court, and so far the fund has handed out $3.5 billion.

While this ruling does not say that all previous settlements should be revisited, it opens the door to question the integrity of how BP is dealing with their settlement fund.

Presenting their settlement administrator as neutral is clearly misleading, and I’m glad that a judge is stepping in to say that the language is legally unacceptable — but at the same time it’s hard to believe that anyone would not understand that Feinberg is acting on the behalf of BP.

Do you think this means that all of the 87,000 settlements that have been signed so far are compromised and should be reopened? Or should people be aware enough to realize that they can join one of the hundreds of lawsuits against BP rather than take BP’s money?

Photo Credit: lagohsep / Creative Commons via Flickr

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Scott James

Scott James is a new media storyteller living and working in San Francisco. He writes, edits and manages projects in the green and social media spaces. In his free time you'll find him hunting down good coffee, camping along the coast, and spending time with his wife and their dog. You can read more of what he's thinking about on his blog.


+ add your own
4:29AM PST on Mar 1, 2011

I loath oil and all oil companies! We need to convert to clean energy only and we need to do it now!! :( NO MORE OIL OR COAL!

8:09AM PST on Feb 18, 2011

I am certainly not neutral on this subject but I am perplexed why they would allow old rigs that they know are in need of fixing continue to operate in the gulf or any other body of water. Taking the search for oil out of our oceans and other bodies of water is a most excellent place to start our rehab and go cold turkey against Oil.

11:22AM PST on Feb 12, 2011

Kristi Cooke: “Maybe it will teach us to seriously start changing our ways.”

That is the only sensible thing you have said, Kristi. The US uses twice as much oil every year as the rest of the developed world put together. All the oil companies, including BP, are merely trying to cater for your insatiable greed. Stop being so damned greedy and, as you say, start changing your ways!

12:59PM PST on Feb 10, 2011

Who is going to compensate the animals and the ecosystem?

7:41AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

Isn't is amazing how many in government positions look upon disasters as money-making or power grabbing opportunities? It seems to me the people with the truest compassion are the people who have little power and little money and still manage to help and give.
Makes me wish the 'meek' could truly inherit the earth.

6:53AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

its BP and KBR and i can go on and on...but lets try to fix...not blame.

4:23AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

Thanks for the article.

12:21AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

it shouldn't all be about money. No amount of money is going to change what happened. We need to force BP to be more responsible and to make the shift from oil to renewables.

10:47PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

Some drastic action to be taken against BP which may be a lesson for others oil co

8:01PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

All I see is that the ones who have suffered and are still suffering are the Animals, alot who have lost their life because of Greedy people.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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