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US Deepwater Horizon explosion & oil spill lawsuits

Deepwater Horizon Source: US Coast Guard, Creative CommonsOn 20 April 2010, the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire in US waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  11 workers were killed in the explosion and 17 injured.  The rig was owned by Transocean on lease to BP, which was the main operator and developer of the site, with Anadarko Petroleum and MOEX Offshore (part of Mitsui Oil Exploration) as minority co-owners.  Work on the well had been performed just before the explosion by Halliburton.  The “blowout preventer” was built by Cameron International.  On 22 April, the rig sank.  Oil leaked from the ruptured well head until 15 July when it was temporarily stopped; approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf.  On 19 September 2010, the US government declared the well “effectively dead”.  Oil directly affected coastal areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.  People dependent on fishing and tourism have been severely affected, along with those in other industries, including some farther from the Gulf Coast.  Concerns have also been raised in relation to health hazards for clean-up workers and coastal residents, including harms allegedly caused by chemicals used to disperse the oil (made by Nalco).  Coverage of the human rights impacts of the disaster is available here.

The explosion and spill have given rise to many lawsuits.  By early December 2010, hundreds of lawsuits had been filed against the companies involved; this number is likely to increase further.  Lawsuits have been brought in both federal and state courts (for a selection see below).  People claiming to have suffered economic harm from the spill can also seek compensation through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.  There are two possible claims through the Claims Facility; emergency payments and long-term settlement.  Emergency payments do not prevent the claimants from suing for additional or future losses; however, if a long-term settlement offer is accepted and received, the claimant forgoes the right to sue BP.  More information on the Claims Facility is available here.

Several U.S. Government investigations have been launched into the oil spill including civil and criminal probes conducted by the Justice Department.  The criminal investigation looks into whether improper relations between corporate officials and federal regulators contributed to the accident and breaches of environmental laws.  On 15 December 2010, the US Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against BP, Transocean, Anadarko, MOEX (part of Mitsui Oil Exploration) and the insurer of the rig QBE Underwriting/Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036 (part of Lloyds of London).  The lawsuit will be included in the consolidated proceedings and includes claims under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.  BP says that it will answer the allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with government investigations.  BP’s partners in the well, Anadarko and MOEX, as well as Transocean, say BP is to blame for the spill and should be held liable.  On 15 November 2012 BP announced it had reached a $4.5 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.  BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges and to pay a $1.26 billion fine to the Department of Justice.  The company will also pay $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.  BP will also pay $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

BP has a general policy not to comment on pending litigation, but information about their response to the explosion and spill is accessible on this part of BP’s website.  The site includes a section on claims and links to BP’s internal investigation of the accident.  On 18 October 2010, BP filed a statement with Court saying they will pay all legitimate claims, regardless of the Oil Pollution Act’s limits on liability.  The filing specifically states that “by making this statement, BP and its affiliates are not admitting anything about their conduct”, and expressly denies gross negligence.  On 13 May 2010, Transocean filed a federal court petition (full text here) seeking to limit its liability arguing it did not cause the disaster and should not be responsible for injuries and damages.  On 24 August 2010, the petition was transferred to the federal Multidistrict Litigation consolidated proceedings until further notice.  According to Bloomberg, Transocean commented in September 2010 that it is awaiting clarity on the “complex litigation landscape” and will then “defend its position vigorously”.  Further information on Transocean’s position is available on a section of its site.  In an October 2010 press release, Halliburton argued that the responsibility for the disaster lies with BP, which failed to perform a key test on the cementing.  In May 2010 testimony to Congress, Cameron’s President and CEO outlined Cameron’s general position.  When contacted by Bloomberg in May 2010, a Cameron spokesperson referred to company policy not to comment on litigation.  In a June 2010 statement, Anadarko claimed that the accident was a “direct result of BP’s reckless decisions and actions”.  On 4 September 2014, the judge in the federal Multidistrict Litigation proceedings issued a ruling finding BP grossly negligent and guilty of wilful misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The judge also found Halliburton and Transocean guilty of negligence.

Below are profiles of a representative selection of lawsuits against companies raising human rights concerns that arise out of the explosion and spill.  This is not a comprehensive listing of lawsuits bringing human rights claims.

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Article
20 April 2015

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Effects Linger And Recovery Is Slow

Author: Debbie Elliott, NPR (USA)

Five years ago, BP's out-of-control oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig…[T]he blast unleashed the nation's worst offshore environmental catastrophe…More than 3 million barrels of Louisiana light crude fouled beaches and wetlands from Texas to Florida, affecting wildlife and livelihoods. Today, the spill's impacts linger…But BP senior vice president Geoff Morrell says the signs are good for a healthy Gulf…Under federal law, BP will have to pay to restore the damage to natural resources caused by its spill — a scientific assessment that is ongoing and could take years to resolve. BP also faces a court judgment that could top $13 billion in an ongoing liability case. A..[J]udge has ruled that BP's gross negligence and willful misconduct are to blame for the disaster. Morrell says BP has already spent $28 billion on response and cleanup and to pay economic claims to oil spill victims. He says the company has changed its safety procedures…

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Article
20 April 2015

Deepwater Horizon, five years later

Author: Virginian-Pilot (USA)

An offshore oil rig - the Deepwater Horizon, leased by BP - exploded on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana…The rig was on fire. Oil was leaking from the well on the seabed 5,000 feet below. Two days later, the rig itself collapsed. Eleven people were confirmed dead; 17 were injured…BP said the well was spewing about 1,000 barrels of crude into the gulf. The U.S. government now says it was closer to 60,000 barrels. Each and every day…Oil spilled through the summer. It wasn't until Sept. 19, 2010, that the well was finally sealed…Five years later, BP's liability remains a question for the courts, where the multinational is fighting to lower the amount it will be forced to pay out to the businesses and families destroyed by its spill…Five years after Deepwater Horizon, only one thing is clear: Another disaster will happen. Perhaps it won't be quite as devastating. Perhaps it will be worse.

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Article
30 April 2015

USA: Judge says BP oil spill clean-up workers can bring claims before jury over health issues following Gulf of Mexico disaster

Author: Sabrina Canfield, WorkersCompensation.com (USA)

"Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Can Seek Trial", 30 Apr 2015

Workers who developed late-onset medical conditions after cleaning up the 2010 BP oil spill have a right to a jury trial, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said...that claimants who were "back ended" into the oil spill litigation - that is, claimants whose symptoms did not exist at the time the medical class settlement was made - have the right to sue BP on their own terms...When the medical class action settlement was reached almost three years ago between BP and plaintiffs the plaintiffs agreed to waive certain ailments that were the result of exposure to oil during the course of helping to clean up the oil spill...But plaintiffs retained their rights to sue down the road if more complicated conditions, such as cancer, arose...Geoff Morrell, BP's senior vice president for U.S. communications and external affairs, said "BP disagrees with the Court's ruling and is considering its options."

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Article
1 May 2015

USA: 25,000 Mexican fishermen file lawsuit against BP for Mexican Gulf oil spill damages

Author: Verónica Calderón, El País (España)

Deepwater_Horizon_Oil_Spill_Gulf_of_Mexico

“Mexican fishermen file US lawsuit against BP for Gulf oil spill damages”, 30 Apr 2015

It’s been five years since a gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – caused by an accident on a British Petroleum (BP) deep-sea exploration rig – caused multi-million losses to businesses and an incalculable amount of ecological damage…While the US government ordered BP to pay compensation to Washington and the gulf states of [the United States]…Mexican fishermen, whose livelihoods have also been affected, are yet to see a single penny from the energy giant…Some 25,000 Mexican fishermen…are seeking compensatory and punitive damages in a civil lawsuit…It marks the first class action to be brought by a group of non-US citizens against BP for the oil disaster…

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Article
11 May 2015

USA: Judge grants BP right to appeal damage claims over Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Author: Reuters

 

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Article
26 May 2015

USA: Transocean, Halliburton & BP each reach settlements in Deepwater Horizon oil spill lawsuits

Author: Miriam Rozen, Texas Lawyer (USA)

"Transocean, Halliburton & BP: Settlement Frenzy", 21 May 2015

BP, Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd. each reached settlements this week in the litigation stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Transocean reached on May 20 a $211 million settlement with businesses and individuals claiming damages from the spill...Transocean also settled with BP in a separate agreement, which requires no court approval. BP will pay Transocean $125 million in compensation for legal fees; BP will discontinue attempts to recover any additional insurance under Transocean's liability policies; and Transocean will allow BP accelerated recovery of about $538 million in insurance proceeds… Halliburton also settled with BP this week. In its May 20 announcement of the deal, Halliburton did not disclose the terms, which also do not require court approval.

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Article
5 October 2015

7 things we know about the finalized BP oil spill settlement

Author: Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com (USA)

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other federal officials gathered Monday morning (Oct. 5) to file the details of the $20 billion settlement agreement with BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill in federal court. The 90-page settlement resolves federal and state claims as well as claims over natural resource damage caused by the disaster. Louisiana is set to receive more than $6.8 billion from the agreement the U.S. Justice Department and five Gulf Coast states reached with BP in July. The deal ends years of complex litigation and allows payments to start flowing to clean and restore the coast, compensate for lost local tax revenue and meet other needs.

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Article
5 October 2015

Deepwater Horizon: BP got 'punishment it deserved' Loretta Lynch says

Author: Dominic Rushe, Guardian (UK)

BP got “the punishment it deserves”, the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, said on Monday as she announced a record settlement of more than $20bn arising from the oil firm’s fatal 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The deal, also agreed with the five states most affected by the spill, ends five years of legal fights over the disaster, which claimed 11 lives and pumped nearly 134m gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days…“The steep penalty should inspire BP and its peers to take every measure necessary to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.” [said Lynch]…The spill “inflicted unprecedented damage”, said Lynch. “Ecosystems were disrupted. Businesses were shuttered. Countless men and women lost their livelihoods and their sense of security.”…Lynch said that the settlement was “not designed to discourage any valid economic activity in the Gulf”. “What it is designed to do, however, is not only to compensate for damages to provide a way forward for the health and safety of the Gulf, but let other companies know they are going to be responsible for the harm that occurs should accidents like this happen in the future…

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Article
6 October 2015

U.S. Settles Claims Against BP Over Deepwater Horizon Spill For $20 Billion

Author: Bill Chappell, NPR (USA)

Federal and state claims against BP for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill have been resolved, the Justice Department says, with the oil and gas company agreeing to pay more than $20 billion in penalties. Calling it "a historic resolution," U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Monday that the deal is "the largest settlement with a single entity in American history," with a record environmental penalty…According to BP, the settlement announced today "does not reflect a new settlement or any new money." Instead, the company says, the figure touted by U.S. officials today includes money that was previously spent or announced…With today's announcement, the government is opening two months of public comment on the settlement. It'll then go before a federal judge for final approval.

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Article
12 October 2015

USA: Indian tribe sues BP, Transocean & Halliburton over loss of resources & lands due to Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Author: Maki Somosot, Houma Today (USA)

"Indian tribe suing companies for oil spill damages", 10 Oct 2015

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe is suing BP, Transocean and Halliburton for damages in connection with the severe loss of tribal lands and resources stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010…"The spilled oil directly impacted vast portions of the Gulf of Mexico coastline, including (the tribe's) aboriginal lands," tribal chiefs Charles Verdin and Donald Dardar alleged in the lawsuit. "These are lands historically occupied by tribal members and ancestors, and include tribal cemeteries, sacred sites, Indian mounds, archaeological sites, village sites, shell middens and traditional fisheries."[T]he tribe…opted to not accept the compensation offered by BP, as it was insufficient to cover its out-of-pocket costs and amounted to less than $75,000…"Throughout the course of the spill, (tribal) members were unable to fish as a result of government spill-related closures of its fishing grounds," the suit says. "After fisheries reopened, the resources were less available and subject to greater pressure, causing a decrease in the amount of natural resources available for subsistence use."…Compensatory damages are also sought for loss of use of subsistence and natural resources…

 

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