Last week, a U.S. district judge ruled that BP deserved most of the blame for the 210 million gallons of oil that flooded the Gulf of Mexico following the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
On April 20, 2010, BP was in charge of operations on the Deepwater Horizon. As its crew was drilling into the mile-deep Macondo 252 well, a surge of methane gas triggered an explosion aboard the rig. BP and government agencies rushed to repair the damage, but the Horizon would eventually buckle under its own weight, collapsing into the ocean two days later. Eleven workers were killed and the well would continue to pump oil into the ocean for 87 days.
Since that time, several lawsuits have been leveled against the oil and gas giant, with the three main companies involved – BP, Transocean and Halliburton – all attempting to pass the blame for the spill itself. Last week, Halliburton agreed to pay $1 billion in compensation to commercial fishermen, property owners and the local government for damages related to the oil spill.
In last Thursday’s decision, Judge Carl Barbier stated that, “the discharge of oil ‘was the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct’ by BP,” deciding that the company was 67 percent at fault. Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, was found to be 30 percent at fault. Halliburton, which conducted cement work on the Macondo well, was determined to be only 3 percent at fault.
Barbier’s ruling was in part based on the fact that deepwater drilling carries greater risk than other drilling methods, and BP’s fault is a result of its failure to assess the stability of the Macondo well.
According to David Uhlmann, a legal expert at the University of Michigan, the ruling “dramatically increases BP’s liability for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.” These damages have yet to be assigned by Barbier, though a gross negligence verdict can incur a fine of up to $4,300 per spill barrel.
BP and the U.S. government differ on how many barrels were spilled in the Gulf, with the former saying 3.26 million and the latter claiming 4.9 million.
BP may face further fines from an upcoming Natural Resources Damage Assessment, which would include funding restoration work within the Gulf of Mexico.