Grossly Negligent and Reckless

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?

66 replies
  1. 1
    Elizabelle says:

    OT and sorry to stomp: Verdict reached in Virginia’s Transvaginal Bob McDonnell corruption trial, but we don’t know what it is yet.

    Pop the popcorn. Although I’m worried they’ll skate, cuz they did choose 7 males from the Richmond area for the jury …

  2. 2

    18 billion, when balanced against the environmental damage, is hardly just.

    BP should be broken up, sold for parts, and the money used to repair the Gulf.

  3. 3
    piratedan says:

    I’ll answer John’s question, with one of my own… how much profit has BP shown over the last five years and then it might be able to be answered easier…

    here’s a link from 2010 that tries to put things in perspective…

  4. 4
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Elizabelle: You and me both. The justice system has proven itself biased in favor of the rich and powerful way too many times.

  5. 5
    JeremyH says:

    Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?


  6. 6
    Redshift says:

    making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

    Unpossible! The free market *always* produces the best result!

  7. 7
    Trollhattan says:

    Just saw that–yeah, this is great, especially coming on the heels of the $1.4B PG&E judgement (now officially appealed). BP keeps pointing fingers but the other companies are their subs–making their fuckups BP’s fuckups, regardless of how egregious. They also, more subtly, point to the dead guys on that platform, who can’t exactly defend themselves.

    My fear is they (BP and PG&E) will both drag this out another decade.

  8. 8
    Elizabelle says:

    @Iowa Old Lady:

    OT continues: did you work out your book deal issues?

  9. 9
    aimai says:

    @JeremyH: Agreed: Not only is the answer “no” but there should be some kind of extra fine levied for every year that the decision was in litigation pro-rated to the value of the company and the value of the fine. Because every year that the company stalled or refused to compromise was also a cost to the environment or to the people affected. At least a billion per year of litigation on top of the fine.

  10. 10
    skyweaver says:

    Yes. $18 billion is enough. $18 billion per dead person and per fish/marine organism that died.

  11. 11
    MattF says:

    Since BP is a person, we should take into account that its feelings must be really hurt by that baaad Federal judge. Owwwie! Owwie! Green balloons!

  12. 12
    Mnemosyne says:


    Yep, and the longer they drag it out, the smaller the fine gets. Even with expensive lawyers, it’s still cheaper for them to drag it out and get the judgement reduced.

  13. 13
    rikyrah says:

    Good decision by the judge

  14. 14
    Schlemizel says:

    No, $18 billion is not enough because it does not directly punish the people responsible. Upper management that set this environment into motion need to do hard time. Middle management that pushed the rules to the limit, hid the truth (because that was what was expected by upper management) and promoted the environment need to spend some time in jail. Finally, each individual contributor that went along needs to issue a written explanation of what they were required to do and a formal letter of apology to the people of the Gulf Coast and to the families of the dead.

  15. 15
  16. 16
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Elizabelle: The publisher assigned me a new editor, who immediately touched base. That was good. Then she said I’d have edits by last week and I didn’t. That was bad. Stuff happens of course, but I’m jumpy.

  17. 17
    Elizabelle says:

    @Redshift: Yesh.

    And even if the McDonnells are convicted, you could see a successful appeal. The Commonwealth’s ethics laws, they is lax.

    ETA: I realize this is a Federal case, precisely because Virginia’s ethics laws are a joke. Still, too much precedence with the powerful and convicted dodging a prison sentence … (See Kenneth Lay of Enron, although his escape route is not one appealing to most… think his family got to keep the ill-gotten gains, though …)

  18. 18

    Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?

    They destroyed an entire ecosystem. This paltry fine doesn’t even constitute a downpayment for the amount they should be held liable for.

  19. 19
    rikyrah says:

    darlene superville ✔ @dsupervilleap

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Verdict reached in public corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. McDonnell and his wife.

  20. 20
    JPL says:

    Joan Rivers died today.

  21. 21
    the Conster says:

    I’ll tell my nephew’s little boy who was born while the well was spewing that instead of having a Gulf of Mexico full of fish and estuaries full of flora and fauna to enjoy, he can read this judgment instead.

  22. 22
    Trollhattan says:

    Since this was the first “Obama’s Katrina” and also, too, the first “Chicago-style shakedown” has BP deployed the “Haven’t we suffered enough?” defense?

  23. 23
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Schlemizel: I agree. Until business execs start going to jail, they will continue to maximize profit.

  24. 24
    JPL says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: Continue updating us. Hopefully, the rest of the process is smooth.

  25. 25
    Elizabelle says:

    @Iowa Old Lady:

    I hope she’s just at the beach. Keep us posted.

  26. 26
    Trollhattan says:

    @JPL: Awww. She bugged me when I was younger, but once I better understood her schtick I came to respect her very much, including how tough it was to be accepted as a woman comedian. And yeah, she could be really funny.

    R.I.P. Joan.

  27. 27
    Elizabelle says:


    Any guess on the outcome? I hope they have been convicted of something, fraud at the very least. They did attempt to conceal their dealings with Star Scientific …

  28. 28
    beth says:

    Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?

    No, no amount of money is enough to compensate me for having to sit through their fucking tv commercials every single night trying to convince me what a great company they are and what good citizens they’ve been. They keep telling me how they’ve spent billions of dollars on the environment in the Gulf without once mentioning how they were the ones who screwed it up to begin with! Stop with the commercials – I’m never going to have good feelings about your freaking oil company and I doubt anyone else will either – especially the families of the people killed on that oil rig.

  29. 29
    Elizabelle says:

    Per local news: both convicted on at least one public corruption charge; don’t know which.

    ETA: More to come.

    PS: Hot damn!

  30. 30
    MattF says:


  31. 31
    Elizabelle says:

    My day is brighter, and it was a good one going in!

    Any guesses on whether the McDonnells remain married? (Do we care? Perchance not …)

  32. 32
    Elizabelle says:

    Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 charges; Maureen guilty on 9.

    Measure them for orange jumpsuits!

  33. 33
    muddy says:

    @Elizabelle: I just read that he carried her over the threshold of the Governor’s mansion. Clearly they were scarcely speaking.

  34. 34
    Mnemosyne says:


    I kind of suspected that was what was going to happen — surgery at her age can be a very risky proposition. Not one of my favorites but, damn, she sure fought her way to the front of the pack, didn’t she?

    ETA: Rivers haters should track down the episode of “Louie” that she did. It’s really funny and poignant, and she did a surprisingly good job playing a version of herself.

  35. 35
  36. 36
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Elizabelle: You know, these people sold themselves for gewgaws and a ride in a fancy car.

    To quote Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”:
    “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales? “

  37. 37
    The Other Chuck says:

    @Elizabelle: I say measure them for ultrasound wands.

  38. 38
    John Cole +0 says:

    @Mnemosyne: Yeah. Her homophobic smears about Michelle and her disgusting attitudes towards Palestinians were a laugh riot. She may have had her moments and definitely paved the way for a lot of female comics, but I never liked her and she should have shut up 20 years ago when she was turning into America’s half-senile racist grandmother.

  39. 39
    Elizabelle says:

    @The Other Chuck:

    Yes indeed.

    It’s reported Bob McD broke out in sobs on hearing “guilty”, and their kids are crying.

    I feel badly for them as humans, but the man wouldn’t expand Medicaid, his attorney general fought ObamaCare at every opportunity, and no one is going to forget the transvaginal wanding he thought should be law.

    Man should have gone to a better law school.

    With the crying, I wonder if he truly did not get that what he did was wrong. Fantasy land or denial?

  40. 40
    Trollhattan says:

    @Elizabelle: Sa-weet! Even though they don’t look it, they’re worse grifters than Sarah and Tawd.

  41. 41
    muddy says:

    @Elizabelle: I’m sure he knew it was wrong, he just never thought he’d have to pay for what he did.

  42. 42
    Elizabelle says:


    Eh, I think the Palins are the McDonnells on steroids. Sarah’s grifted a lot more than $200,000.

    Local news just made a good point that Cantor’s out, McDonnell’s disgraced, the GOP does not have a deep bench in Virginia, an increasingly purple state.

    We can hope!

  43. 43
    Trollhattan says:

    By “worse’ I meant to say not-as good. Amateurs in comparison, if better dressed than the snowbillies.

    ETA, in the best grifts, the victims happily come back for more:

  44. 44
    Comrade Dread says:

    Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?

    Criminal charges of reckless endangerment, involuntary manslaughter, and I’m sure an Attorney General or D.A. could figure out a few more things to tack on in addition to the environmental regulations.

    Giant corporations, like gun nuts, won’t change their behavior until we start putting senior management officials and officers in jail.

  45. 45
    Elizabelle says:

    John’s put up a McDonnell guilty thread above.

    I think “Grossly negligent and reckless” was a great header for his administration, too.

  46. 46
    Elizabelle says:


    Oh. Have to agree with that!

  47. 47
    WaterGirl says:

    @zombie rotten mcdonald: Nodding in agreement with every word.

  48. 48
    boatboy_srq says:

    At least $18B is more than Exxon was assessed for the Valdez… let’s hope the appeals process doesn’t cut that back.

    @Elizabelle: Not convinced about the jury thing there: Governor Ultrasound threw his marriage under the bus in an attempt at “get out of jail free and single”. I’m not sure that’ll wash with Good Upstanding Family-Values Xtians down Richmond way. Vitter for all his diaper-wearing escapades at least kept his wife comfortable (if probably not happy) – McDonnell couldn’t even do that from the accounts I’ve seen. I keep thinking he’d have had a better chance if Johnnie Williams had been a rentboy.

  49. 49
    boatboy_srq says:

    @Elizabelle: Does that make him the Last Dude? ,-)

  50. 50
    boatboy_srq says:

    @Elizabelle: (re: last comment) I guess that makes him the Next Dude, then…

  51. 51
    Elizabelle says:


    I’ll take Convicted Dude! And I hope he and she do serve time.

    Team Balloon Juice won a $25 gift certificate to Murphy’s at trivia night during Tuesday’s meetup.

    You must come help us drink it.

  52. 52
    Lurking Canadian says:

    Have any Senators apologized to BP for the decision, yet?

  53. 53
    Elizabelle says:


    Good point about the “wife under the bus” defense misfiring but good. That could have made a difference to several jurors.

    It’s obvious the McDonnells were taking gifts right and left. I was just worried the jury might decide it was not technically illegal. Glad they could see the corruption.

    And I wish someone other than legislators set the ethics rule. They self-deal too much. Should be a citizens commission.

  54. 54
    Jamey says:

    People died on the Deepwater Horizon rig–because BP knew about the defects, but dummied up. Corporations are people.

    Death penalty for BP execs. Tough but fair.

  55. 55
    Mnemosyne says:

    Okay, FYWP is not letting me post Joan Rivers’s name?

    ETA: Really bizarre. Like her or don’t, but she opened doors for women comedians.

  56. 56
    Mnemosyne says:

    Aha! Found the forbidden word. For future reference, you can’t post the last name of Sherlock Holmes’s doctor friend (which is also the last name of one of the dudes who discovered DNA) or your comment will go off into the ether, never to be seen again. FYWP.

  57. 57
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Jamey: Actually, if corporations are people, then BP itself should get the death penalty. The corporate property (and the property of the executives) should be confiscated under RICO.

  58. 58
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    You want to fix this problem? It’s actually pretty easy. The finding of recklessness opens up criminal behaviour… and to fix it make BP’s Board of Directors criminally responsible. There are sections of the EPA that include criminal sanctions… it’s time to use them. Charge BP’s BoD; they are ultimately responsible for their firm’s behaviour and the finding of recklessness means the behaviour was criminal. Put them in jail and then Stand Back because Shit’s Gonna Change Real Fast.

  59. 59
    Robert M. says:

    @zombie rotten mcdonald: What you said, and I’m absolutely serious. BP conclusively demonstrated that they’re either unable or uninterested in operating safely, so their US assets should be confiscated and then auctioned off–pour encourager les autres.

    The profits can be placed in an endowment for the rebuilding and maintenance of the Gulf ecosystem (to the degree that’s even possible) and economy.

  60. 60
    jame says:

    No. What JeremyH said. Also, getting BP et al to actually cough up all that cash will be tough.

  61. 61
    PaulW says:

    Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?

    No. The BP CEO and other upper admin people responsible for worker safety need to be charged with manslaughter at the very least. PEOPLE DIED DAMMIT!

    Companies are not going to take worker safety seriously until they see CEOs getting shipped to SuperMax Colorado for life.

  62. 62
    dp says:

    @JeremyH: Not even close.

  63. 63
    ZBIV says:

    $18 billion is nothing to these guys. With all the information suppression and dumping of chemicals, which they never did fully document, all for the purpose of damage mitigation for them, and f&$k you to anyone whose life they made worse in the process, there needs to be a G8 country deficit sized number to make this right.

    Full disclosure: I hold about 20-30 shares of BP stock. They missed a quarter or two of dividends with the first $25 billion or so they were fined.

    ZBIV +6

  64. 64
    burnspbesq says:

    The $18 billion figure is an estimate. The statutory penalty is $4,300 per barrel spilled, which, per Bloomberg, is about 45x the current benchmark price of a barrel of the kind of crude that BP produces in the gulf. That may not be enough punishment for the bloody-minded among us (a group to which I belong), but it’s reasonable to think it will be enough to change behavior going forward.

  65. 65
    JR in WV says:

    I think the fine should be all of their profits since the spill.

    Plus penalties for every gallon of that solvent they treated like holy water, pretending it was dissolving that crude.

    Plus criminal penalties for everyone from the field manager in charge of that platform all the way to the top.

  66. 66
    Frank Kvidahl says:

    @MattF: Since corporations are people, and people go to jail for stuff like this, shouldn’t the corporation go to jail? Ask the Justices of the Supreme Court who should be incarcerated.

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