The U.S. government temporarily banned BP Plc from federal contracts on Wednesday over its “lack of business integrity” in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, a move that the British company had said could force it to rethink its entire U.S. operations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the suspension was “standard practice” following criminal actions. Earlier this month, BP plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and agreed to pay record penalties of $4.5 billion.
The suspension means that BP will not be able to secure any new contracts with the U.S. government, including the lease of new exploration territory in the federal Gulf of Mexico, one of BP’s biggest oil production regions globally. Some 20 million acres of offshore territory is being auctioned later Wednesday.
The suspension will not affect existing leases.
BP admits to 11 counts of manslaughter for 2010 oil spill disaster
November 15, 2012
Oil giant BP will fork over the largest criminal penalty in the history of the United States and plead guilty to criminal misconduct, sources report, with more charges possibly forthcoming over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The US Justice Department admitted Thursday afternoon that two BP employees have been indicted with manslaughter for their involvement in the disaster that left 11 workers dead. Meanwhile, BP will pay the US a settlement worth $4.5 billion, including $1.3 in criminal fines, breaking the record for criminal penalties in the country previously held by drug maker Pfizer, who was penalized to the tune of $1.2 billion in 2009.
In exchange for the plea and for also admitting guilt to obstructing Congress, BP will reportedly be in the clear from any further prosecution relating to the oil spill, the sources allege. At least two BP employees might not be off the hook themselves, however, possibly facing criminal manslaughter charges for their role
The April 20, 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig managed by BP not only caused the death of nearly a dozen employees onboard a barge near the Mississippi River, but ravaged the Gulf shore by polluting it with 4.9 million barrels of crude oil in the worst spill ever to happen off of America. Up until that point, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was the most severe in US history, having resulted in a comparably meager 750,000 barrels polluting Prince William Sound, Alaska due to a tanker crash. In that case, Exxon settled with the US government for what would be only $1.8 billion by today’s standards.
Only this past August, the US Justice Department filed pretrial papers revealing that they hoped to charge BP with “reckless management” of their Macondo well in what they attested “constituted gross negligence and willful misconduct.” That matter was expected to end up the focus of a civil trial scheduled for early 2013, although the federal government has not yet delivered them with criminal charges.
“We do not use words like ‘gross negligence’ and ‘willful misconduct’ lightly,” a Justice Department attorney wrote in papers. “But the fact remains that people died, many suffered injuries to their livelihood, and the Gulf’s complex ecosystem was harmed as a result of BP and Transocean’s bad acts or omissions.”
While this week’s deal is believed to relieve BP from further prosecutions, sources say the civil charges already brought up by the Justice Department will remain intact. According to the Associated Press, BP acknowledged before Thursday’s plea that the proposed settlement “would not include civil claims under the Clean Water Act and other legislation, pending private civil claims and state claims for economic loss.”
Other claims as well against BP exist, the AP notes, from banks, businesses and local governments who want compensation for losses caused by a mandated moratorium on drilling announced after the spill, none of which are covered by BP’s proposed settlement with private attorneys.
BP has previously estimated that it will spend an additional $7.8 billion or so to settle class-action claims from private plaintiffs including over 100,000 individuals and businesses impacted by the disaster.
Talks between BP and the US government over a settlement for the 2010 oil spill have stalled because the US is insisting that the British oil giant pay at least $18bn, according to reports.
According to the Sunday Times in the UK, a settlement deal may not happen until early next year.
A settlement between $18bn and $21bn is near the level which BP would be required to pay should it be found grossly negligent under the Clean Water Act, said the paper.
BP, which declined to comment on the story, has always denied any liability for the United States’ worst offshore environmental disaster.
Reports in July suggested that the US was looking for a settlement of $25bn.
The newspaper said that BP’s board is split over whether to pay $18bn or continue to push for a settlement at $15bn, the level it is widely reported to be hoping to settle at.
Scientists are accusing the BP oil company of using the U.S. courts to attack their calculations of how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster.
In a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, charge that BP and other corporations damage scientific research when they subpoena documents and correspondence that lead to study conclusions. Richard Camilli, an ocean physicist, engineer and lead author of the paper, claimed that BP was intent on using such correspondence to raise doubts about the spill calculations.
Camilli and his colleagues called for legislation that would shield researchers from litigants who were “seeking to silence scientific inquiry or retribution for publishing independent research findings.”
A federal court in New Orleans is considering a proposed $7.8-billion settlement between BP and Gulf Coast victims of the 2010 oil spill. In preparation for a separate suit brought by the U.S. government, BP sought and obtained thousands of the scientists’ e-mails, as well as other documents, despite the insistence of scientists that the materials were confidential.
Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in 2010, BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants in an effort to break up the oil. The dispersants also wiped out plankton, according to a new study.
While McDonald’s will remain king of the chips at the London 2012 Olympic Games, BP has charged itself with delivering the culinary “spirit of the Gulf”. The Louisiana Office of Tourism announced this week that the oil company would be hosting a series of events for Team USA that will pair three Gulf coast bands with chefs from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida preparing “the world’s freshest and best-tasting seafood”.
No doubt Team USA will enjoy the New Orleans jazz and Cajun food on offer, but it’s more than a little troubling that, after the 2010 Gulf oil spill, BP has co-opted the phrase “spirit of the Gulf” as a promotional device to position itself as the gatekeeper to the region’s culture and cuisine.
It doesn’t quite feel right. But I have a hard time getting too furious with anything that helps the people devastated by that oil spill. And we know that BP is only doing this because - as with their Gulf Coast promoting commercials, their legal settlements require them too.
There’s been a dramatic decline in microscopic life on BP’s oiled beaches. “It went from a very diverse mix of species to being dominated by a few predators and opportunists,” says lead author Holly Bik, a postdoc at the University of California Davis.
It’s been two years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster unleashed 4.9 million barrels of oil on the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of the disaster, BP and its contractors did everything they could to keep people from seeing the scale of the disaster. But new photos released Monday offer some new insight to just how grim the Gulf became for sea life.
You can see the rest here. (Warning: soul-crushingly sad.)
“The class which has the power to rob upon a large scale has also the power to control the government and legalize their robbery.”—Eugene Debs
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources acted this week to close waters along the Gulf Coast to shrimping due to widespread reports from scientists and fishermen of deformed seafood and drastic fall-offs in populations two years after the BP oil spill. All waters in the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay, and some areas of Bon Secour, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon were closed to shrimpers. Reports of grossly deformed seafood all along the Gulf from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle have been logged with increasing urgency, but Alabama is the first state to actually close waters to the seafood industry.
Some Alabama officials are hedging on the real reason for closing shrimping but this report is largely substantiated by multiple sources.
A former engineer for BP PLC has been arrested and accused of deleting text messages detailing how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as BP tried to staunch the Deepwater Horizon spill in the spring of 2010.
Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, is charged with two counts of obstructing justice for deleting from his iPhone hundreds of text messages he exchanged with a co-worker and a contractor, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
The complaint represents the first criminal charges brought against any workers involved in the accident or its aftermath. A lawyer for Mix, who is expected to appear in court Tuesday afternoon, couldn’t immediately be identified.
BP said in a statement it wouldn’t comment on the charges against Mix but that the company had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in the case. The company said it was “cooperating with the Department of Justice and other official investigations into the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.”
Mix was part of an internal team BP set up to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well as well as to try to stop the leak.
|—||The Wall Street Journal (via the New York Post), “Former BP Engineer Arrested in Deepwater Horizon Criminal Probe” (via inothernews)|
William worked from June to October 2010 as part of the Vessels of Opportunity program that paid the fishermen BP put out of business to use their boats to clean up its oil. William transported giant bags, called bladders, used to collect oil, to the shore. When he came home at night, says Nicole, his clothes “smelled oily.” Not only were his clothes blackened; so was William.
William’s symptoms began with coughing, then headaches and skin rashes, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. About three to six months later, he started bleeding from his ears and nose and suffering from a heavy cough.
“I ain’t got no money for a doctor,” William quietly tells me, staring down at his hands in his lap. Medicaid covers the kids, but Nicole and William do not have health insurance. “We didn’t know we were gonna get sick. Now I get sick, I stay sick. I don’t sleep. I stay stressed out more than anything. I got bags under my eyes I never had before. I just don’t know if I wanna show people who I am.”
William and Nicole Maurer, and their two young daughters, are among the hundreds of thousands of Gulf residents suffering from the hidden health crisis festering in the region as a result of the toxic “gumbo of chemicals” to which the people, places and wildlife of the Gulf continue to be exposed. From respiratory ailments to neurological disorders to what’s being called the “BP rash” and more, coastal residents have experienced devastating health effects while BP still hasn’t been held to account. Antonia Juhasz reports on the little-known crisis at length in a special investigation for The Nation.
Two years, already? Now reading this excellent piece:
TODAY IS THE TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER IN THE GULF OF MEXICO
The following is an excerpt from Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster by Abrahm Lustgarten.
The burst of gas came from so deep within the bowels of the earth it may as well have come from another world. Thirteen thousand feet beneath the ocean’s silty floor and the earth’s crust and another five thousand feet underwater—a total depth farther than fourteen Empire State buildings stacked atop one another—hydrocarbons in the form of hot fluid saturated with dissolved methane seeped through the reinforced walls of a new oil well.
The well, an exploratory venture drilled by BP and called Macondo, was a three-mile-long tube of cement and steel that had been burrowed into the million-and-a-half-year-old rock in the weeks before. It was one of the industry’s most important new efforts to find oil in the deep waters off the southern coast of the United States, and, while not the deepest, the Macondo was pushing the limits of drilling technology and risk.
This particular well had been a cursed project from the start. Miles above, where the sun skipped along the lapping waves of the Gulf of Mexico, the Macondo project’s 126 oil workers had battled for weeks to control wild kicks of gas and to adapt to a series of setbacks doled out by this complicated and unpredictable well. Under stress and guided by conflicting mandates to drill quickly, drill safely, and drill cheaply, the workers had often made the wrong decisions. Now the Macondo was preparing to issue them one last challenge.
Inside the well, the gas, squeezed out of the earth by the natural pressure of the compressed rock and shoved upward by its own buoyancy, shot skyward at a pace that would bring it to the surface of the gulf in a matter of minutes. As it rose it expanded rapidly, the volume increasing the higher it got in the well, until the steel pipe and casing that channeled it upward could barely contain its explosive force.
On the ocean floor, the kick—as such a geologic burp is called in the oil industry—shot through the top of the well at the seafloor and continued upward through the mile-deep water in the long hose of steel called a riser pipe that connected the well to the surface. There, it slammed into the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, a thirty-story structure with a footprint the size of an average Walmart Supercenter floating in the Gulf of Mexico. With a burst like a canon, pent-up pressure from the oil and gas exploded from the twenty-one-inch pipe, which rose up out of the dark water. Bolts sheared off and valves were forced open. Drilling mud that had filled the well to cool the drill bit and balance the well pressure spewed across the deck of the rig, rushing against doors and spilling across stairways. With a roaring hiss, a cloud of natural gas began to envelop the rig.
On the drilling floor, the Deepwater’s driller on duty, Dewey Revette, had been monitoring the well readings and watching for a kick, but he hadn’t seen the signs. When the blowout came, Revette, a driller named Stephen Curtis, and the rig’s toolpusher, or drilling supervisor, Jason Anderson, scrambled to control the burst of gas. Anderson, cool-headed, had spent nine years working on the Deepwater Horizon and knew what to do. First, he diverted the spurting mud into a gas separator, thinking it would help capture the explosive materials from the messy mud. Then he triggered one of the emergency valved on the rig’s blowout preventer, a three-hundred-ton piece of machinery lying on the gulf’s floor meant to seal off the well in the case of a violent kick. But it was too late.
Two flights below, on the Deepwater Horizon’s second deck, Mike Williams manned the rig’s electronics shop, next to the engine room. A few feet away, diesel turbines generated the platform’s power and spun the drill bits miles inside the earth. Suddenly, Williams heard a deafening whine as the revolutions of the engines increased. But the danger—an envelope of gas that ballooned from the top of the riser pipe on the drilling floor above—was invisible. Neither Williams nor anyone else on the rig except the small group that had scrambled to drill deck had been told the Macondo was blowing out.
The rig had an extensive network of sensors that were supposed to detect a combustible cloud of gas before it could reach the engines and the control room and issue a warning. Those alarms were meant to trigger a series of closing valves designed to keep the gas from burning up in the engines. But the sensors didn’t react, and the valves never shut. The gas saturated the air, turning the rig’s engines’ normal cooling and ventilation intake into a source of gaseous fuel. The motors sucked the fumes out of the air, screaming higher and faster, their pistons whipping back and forth furiously. Another critical safety backup, the blowout preventer that Anderson had already tried to trigger in order to cut off the well, also failed, meaning the gas cloud on the rig would only get bigger. By the time Williams realized what was unfolding, there was little he could do to change it. He ran toward a fortified steel exit door, but as he reached it, one of the engines exploded. The six-foot-tall plate of metal blew off its hinges, striking him midstride. Dazed and bleeding, he slowly picked himself up, only to be slammed back down again by a devastating second blast.
On the deck above Williams, the Deepwater Horizon’s derrick was instantly engulfed in flames. The men on the drilling floor, including Jason Anderson, were killed quickly, but dozen of others were crushed or twisted or slashed by flying debris and were desperately crawling out of their own horrific emergencies, trying not to be entombed in an industrial grave.
Williams stumbled out toward a set of steel steps only to find that the walkway, which would have taken him up to the main deck, was missing. The engines were gone; the whole back of the rig was gone. Wiping away blood that blocked his vision, Williams sought another way. He heard a plea for help and stumbled over the body of an injured colleague. Above them a wall of black smoke drifted up from raging, seventy-five-foot flames. Williams couldn’t carry the man. All he could do was try to save himself.
A short time later, desperate to escape the searing heat and giant cherry-balls of fire, Williams leapt off the railings into the black night, tumbling ninety feet into the roiling, burning, oil-streaked water of the Gulf of Mexico.
ABRAHM LUSTGARTEN is a reporter for ProPublica and a former writer for Fortune. He covers energy and environmental topics, including natural gas, renewable energy, water resources, and energy policy. He lives in San Francisco, California. Follow him on Twitter: @AbrahmL.
Two years have passed since BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform explosion killed 11 and released 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. And, what have our lawmakers done to minimize the likelihood of another catastrophe? Nothing.
Congress’s response to the spill has been truly pathetic. It has not passed a single bill to prevent another catastrophe, according to a report issued Tuesday by former members of a presidential commission that investigated the spill. Congress has failed even to codify the Interior Department’s sound regulatory reforms, which could be undone by a future administration.
I wish I were surprised, but I’m not.
- Judge extends deadline for BP oil spill settlement (newsok.com)
- Oil Spill Commission Action Group Gives Congress Low Grades For Regulatory Reform On Drilling (huffingtonpost.com)
- Nagging and Lagging Problems with Off Shore Drilling Safety (recoverydiva.com)