Units of BP PLC and four other companies were sued by US President Barack Obama’s administration over allegations they violated environmental laws in the largest offshore oil spill in US history.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in federal court in New Orleans, is the first brought by the US over the oil spill caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April.
The lawsuit seeks damages under the Clean Water Act and a declaration that four of the defendants are liable under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to the environment, a Justice Department statement said. It doesn’t ask for a specified amount of damages.
“The United States has sustained, and will continue to sustain significant costs and damages,” the complaint said. The US “seeks in this action the imposition of Clean Water Act civil penalties for each barrel of oil that the defendants discharged into the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Clean Water Act authorizes the US to seek civil penalties of US$1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled, or in certain circumstances, as much as US$4,300 a barrel from the companies involved, government lawyers said in a September filing with the court in New Orleans. The government reported in August that 4.9 million barrels were spilled.
“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,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference.
“We have not asked for damages at this point because it’s going to take years to fully quantify what the damages are,” Tony West, an assistant attorney general, told the news conference.
The Justice Department is “at a different stage” with its criminal investigation compared with the civil case, Holder said.
“We are moving as quickly as we can” on the criminal investigation, he said.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said 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.”
The other defendants include units of Switzerland-based Transocean, which owned the rig, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, part owners of the well that ruptured.
In other developments, US diplomatic cables leaked by the Web site WikiLeaks claim BP suffered a blowout on an Azerbaijan gas platform in September 2008 and was fortunate to evacuate workers safely after the blast, the Guardian reported yesterday.
Other cables claim Azerbaijan’s president accused BP of stealing oil from his country and using “mild blackmail” to secure rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region, the newspaper said.
The Guardian said the latest cables showed striking resemblances between BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster and a little reported gas leak in Azerbaijan 18 months beforehand. The cables reveal that some of BP’s partners in the gas field were upset the company was so secretive about the incident that it even allegedly withheld information from them.