Government sues to recover costs from Macondo well accident, spill

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 16 -- The US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency jointly sued to recover damages from the Apr. 20 Macondo well accident, which claimed 11 lives, and subsequent crude oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

DOJ and EPA filed a civil action in US District Court in New Orleans naming nine defendants, including the well’s operator, BP Exploration & Production Inc.; partner Anadarko Exploration & Production LP; offshore drilling contractor Transocean Holdings LLC; and insurers QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036.

The complaint alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations, including failures to take necessary precautions to secure the well before the blowout and explosion, use the safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s condition, maintain continuous surveillance of the well, and use and maintain equipment and materials necessary to protect personnel, property, natural resources, and the environment, US Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said.

“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,” he told reporters.

Holder said the federal government also is seeking fines under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits unauthorized discharges of oil and similar substances into US waters. “We allege that the defendants named in this lawsuit were in violation of the act throughout the months that oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “We intend to hold them fully accountable for their violations.”

He said DOJ launched both civil and criminal probes into the accident and spill as initial response efforts were under way, and that lawyers and investigations from the department closely coordinated their efforts with local US attorneys’ offices and states’ attorneys general.

“While today’s civil action marks a critical step forward, it is not a final step,” Holder declared. “Both our criminal and civil investigations are continuing. Our work to ensure that the American taxpayers are not forced to bear the costs of restoring the gulf area—and its economy—goes on. As I have said from the beginning, as our investigations continue, we will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those responsible for this spill.”

DOJ worked with EPA, the US Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement it its investigations for the civil suit, he noted.

In a response, BP said that the lawsuit “is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit,” adding, “BP will answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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