A judge put the hammer to BP:
A federal judge ruled on Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that killed 11 workers, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches.
“BP’s conduct was reckless,” United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier wrote in his sternly worded decision. Judge Barbier also ruled that Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the service company that cemented the well, were negligent in the accident.
But the judge put most of the blame on BP, opening the way to fines of up to $18 billion under the Clean Water Act.
In a 153-page, densely technical decision, Judge Barbier described how BP repeatedly ignored mounting warning signs that the well was unstable, making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”
Judge Barbier painstakingly re-created the hurried effort to temporarily shut in a problematic well, deemed by some to be “the well from hell,” and shows how a series of problems, many of which were suspected by the rig’s crew, led to the blowout. Even after noting these anomalies, BP crew members ignored test results that should have reinforced caution, and, if heeded, could have prevented the disaster even in its final minutes, he wrote.
BP has long acknowledged responsibility for the accident, but has said that it should be fully shared with the companies that operated the Deepwater Horizon rig and improperly sealed the well with cement.
While acknowledging that there was blame to share, Judge Barbier in most cases says the fault finally lies with BP, either because it was responsible for the most fundamental problems or because contractual relationships made clear that BP was fundamentally responsible.
Ultimately, according to the judge, the company that owned the lease to the well and was responsible for overseeing all of the drilling work displayed gross negligence, which in legal terms means that it was responsible for willful misconduct. Judge Barbier apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill on BP, 30 percent on Transocean and 3 percent on Halliburton.
Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?