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.
In other Chevron news: Chevron faces deadline in $19 billion Ecuador case
August 7, 2012
U.S. oil giant Chevron has until midnight tonight to pay a US $19.04 billion Ecuador court judgment for polluting Amazon waterways or officially default and face another lawsuit to seize its assets, this time in Ecuador. Such collection lawsuits are pending against Chevron in Canada and Brazil.
Ecuador Judge Liliana Ortiz on Friday signed an order giving Chevron until midnight tonight to deposit the funds necessary to remediate the oil contamination, which included the dumping of more than 16 billion gallons of toxic waste from oil production into Amazon waterways.
Judge Ortiz’s order comes after almost 19 years of litigation.
The case, Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco, began on November 3, 1993 when 30,000 indigenous people and farmers from Ecuador’s Amazon filed a class action suit against Texaco in New York federal court alleging massive oil contamination of the rainforest.
For 10 years, Texaco argued before U.S. judges that the case should be transferred to Ecuador’s courts. In 2002, a U.S. federal judge granted Texaco’s motion and removed the case to Ecuador on the condition that Texaco submit to jurisdiction there and be bound by any ruling of the Ecuadorian courts.
In the meantime, Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, assuming its liabilities and defense of the case.
Texaco operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992, building hundreds of oil production facilities. The trial judge in Lagio Agrio found overwhelming evidence that the company dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways as a cost-saving measure.
Five indigenous groups in the area have been harmed by the pollution that covers an area the size of Rhode Island. The contamination also caused an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people in the area, according to evidence before the court.
Judge Ortiz’s order is the final step under Ecuador civil procedure to certify the 188-page trial court judgment, which was issued on February 11, 2011. That judgement was unanimously affirmed on appeal in early January. It set the amount of the judgment at $18.2 billion.
Last week, Judge Ortiz raised the final amount of the award to $19.041 billion after calculating various mandatory costs required by Ecuador law.
Chevron stripped most of its primary assets, including service stations, from Ecuador years ago and the company no longer operates in the country.
Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuador lawyer on the case, says that for practical purposes, Judge Ortiz’s order allows the rainforest communities to execute the Ecuador judgment against Chevron’s remaining assets in their home country.
Fajardo estimates Chevron’s remaining assets in Ecuador are worth roughly $200 million, including a $96 million court judgment the company won recently in an international arbitration proceeding against Ecuador’s government.
Judge Ortiz’s order also puts the plaintiffs in a stronger legal position to pursue recognition of the Ecuador judgment abroad under various international treaties and domestic law statutes.
Collection lawsuits are pending against Chevron in Canada and Brazil, where the company has billions of dollars worth of assets. The plaintiffs are asking courts to seize to seize these assets to satisfy the judgment and finance a cleanup of the oil contamination, said Fajardo.
“People in Ecuador are dying because of Chevron’s pollution and company’s utter contempt for the rule of law,” said Fajardo. “Chevron is going to have to be forced by courts to comply with its legal obligations.”
Chevron maintains the plaintiffs’ allegations that it is responsible for alleged environmental and social harms in the Oriente region of Ecuador are “false.”
Chevron says the company never conducted oil production operations in Ecuador, and its subsidiary Texaco Petroleum Co. (TexPet) “fully remediated its share of environmental impacts arising from oil production operations, before leaving Ecuador in 1992.”
“After the remediation was certified by all agencies of the Ecuadorian government responsible for oversight, TexPet received a complete release from Ecuador’s national, provincial, and municipal governments that extinguished all claims before Chevron acquired TexPet in 2001,” the company says.
“All legitimate scientific evidence exonerates Chevron and proves that the remediated sites pose no significant risks to human health or the environment,” Chevron says on its website.
If Chevron refuses to pay the court judgment, the company will face a greater risk of liability in the enforcement actions already pending, said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the indigenous and farmer plaintiffs.
If Chevron defaults, Fajardo said his legal team will file court actions to seize the intellectual property rights of various Chevron brands in Ecuador, including Havoline.
An oil spill from a broken Enbridge Energy pipeline in Wisconsin has been contained, the company says, but it could not have come at a worse time for the Canadian company, which is trying to get approval for new pipelines in Canada and the United States.
The 1,200 barrel spill happened on Friday near Grand Marsh in central Wisconsin, population 127. Enbridge Control Center operators shut down and isolated the line and deployed emergency crews to the site. Environment News Service (http://s.tt/1k2Gh)
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.
CBC News Posted: Jul 28, 2012 12:00 PM ET
A U.S. government agency is investigating an oil leak of about 1,200 barrels (190,000 litres) that seeped out of an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin, which was delivering Canadian crude to Chicago-area refineries.
On Saturday, the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that it was investigating the cause of the pipeline failure and that an inspector has been sent to the locale.
The Alberta-based company is busy cleaning up the leak and has shut down part of that pipeline. “Enbridge is treating this situation as a top priority. We are bringing all necessary resources to bear,” a company official said in a statement after Friday’s spill, which forced the closure of Line 14 running through Grand Marsh in central Wisconsin.
“Our immediate focus is on keeping our workers and the public safe as we work to remove the oil and clean up the site,” said Richard Adams, vice president of U.S. operations at Enbridge.
It’s not known how long the line, which is part of the Lakehead route, will remain closed. The cause of the spill has yet to be determined.
Friday’s incident isn’t the only oil pipeline leak involving an Alberta-based firm this summer. As much as 475,000 litres of light sour crude escaped last month from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline into a man-made reservoir, Gleniffer Lake, via the Red Deer River in Alberta.
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.
A huge spill has released 22,000 barrels of oil and water into muskeg in the far northwest of Alberta.
The spill ranks among the largest in North America in recent years, a period that has seen a series of high-profile accidents that have undermined the energy industry’s safety record. The Enbridge Inc. pipeline rupture that leaked oil near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, for example, spilled an estimated 19,500 barrels.
The most recent spill was discovered May 19 emanating from pipe belonging to Pace Oil & Gas Ltd. (PCE-T3.07-0.18-5.54%), a small energy company that produces about 15,000 barrels a day, roughly half of that oil.
The spill has yet to be contained, although “we’re very close,” Pace chief executive Fred Woods said in an interview Wednesday.
As with many recent pipeline accidents, Calgary-based Pace did not detect a problem, but was informed of the leak by another company after the spill was spotted from an aircraft. The spill, which killed one duck, now covers 4.3 hectares. Mr. Woods declined comment on how long it was leaking before detection.
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
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)|
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.
Tar balls from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster washing up in the Gulf of Mexico after storms are full of potentially deadly bacteria, U.S. scientists say.
Auburn University microbiologist Cova Arias and colleagues discovered tar balls found months after the spill contained high levels of bacteria, including 10 times the level of Vibrio vulnificus as found in surrounding sand.
V. vulnificus is a leading cause of seafood-borne disease fatalities nationwide, and it has a fatality rate of 20 percent to 30 percent when it infects skin wounds.
|—||Laurel Lockamy, photographer, and resident of Gulfport, Mississippi. Click here to see some of her photos from the Gulf shores. (via nrdc)|