Oil Sullies Coast as Department of Justice Slams BP Settlement
Tar ball and mats of old oil have washed ashore in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. The State of Louisiana closed a 12-mile stretch of shoreline in the Grand Isle area along with an area stretching from the shore to roughly one mile into the Gulf’s waters. Further, pelicans and other wildlife have been reported found covered with oil. Reports indicate that officials will be conducting tests to verify whether this petroleum debris stems from BP’s 2010 Macondo well disaster.
“There are reports of residual Macondo oil along the shorelines near Fouchon [sic] Beach and Grand Isle,” Arturo Silva, a spokesperson for BP, told The Louisiana Weekly via email. “These are areas that were in active response prior to Isaac, so it was expected… that these could be areas where highly weathered residual oil might be exposed.” Silva went on to point out “that there have been 90 reports of oil releases from other sources since the storm, and it is imperative that the parties responsible for that oil act in the same manner as BP and respond quickly in following Coast Guard directions.”
A New York Times report dated Sept. 6th confirmed that the oil washing ashore did originate with the Macondo well. Silva told The Louisiana Weekly that BP was conducting its own tests to verify these results. Deputy Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, Aaron Viles, offered a pointed critique. “Isaac’s aftermath shows that BP’s oil is still in the Gulf, and that the Coast Guard should never have allowed BP to stand-down cleanup efforts along Louisiana’s hard-hit coast.”
At the same time that Isaac was churning up an oily wake, the Department of Justice was addressing the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which dumped roughly 5 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. On the last day of August, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a memo with the New Orleans Federal District Court asserting that BP has “a culture of corporate recklessness.” This memo followed a motion filed by BP earlier in the month asking the court to accept the settlement proposal that it had put forward in May. Just days later, The DOJ memo was followed by a filing from BP co-defendant, Halliburton, also asking Judge Carl Barbier to reject BP’s settlement offer.
The Chicago Tribune tied a drop in BP’s stock price to the aggressive DOJ memo. David Uhlmann, former head of the DOJ’s environmental crimes section, told the Associated Press that this tone indicates that the government is ready to go to trial. The trial is slated to begin in mid-January 2013.
One of the key points at issue is whether or not BP’s conduct prior to the spill constitutes gross negligence. If the firm is found to have been not only culpable for the disaster, but also to have contributed to the conditions that caused the explosion that killed 11 men and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, it will be subject to punitive damages beyond the fines that it faces for violating the Clean Water and Oil Pollution Acts.
In penultimate section of its memo, the DOJ asserted that with its motion, “BP is apparently seeking to pre-judge the results of the NRDA [Natural Resource Damage Assessment] by inviting the Court to make factual findings on environmental injury based on BP’s selective and misleading account of environmental conditions.”
New Orleans attorney Stuart H. Smith posted comments on his blog about the recent filings, stating that “Scores of plaintiffs — including some represented by my law firm — are challenging the deal as unfair, ignoring issues such as the long-term neurological damage to clean-up workers and other Gulf residents who were exposed to massive amounts of the toxic dispersant Corexit that was deployed by BP.” Smith’s blog also asserts that the filings point towards a significant hearing with Judge Barbier scheduled for November.