If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Judge Finds BP ‘Grossly Negligent’ In 2010 Gulf Disaster

Oil spill: Ruling Opens Door To Multi-Billion-Dollar Clean Water Act Fines

by Glenn Hess
September 5, 2014

BP acted with “gross negligence” in precipitating the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled on Thursday. The decision could expose the oil and gas giant to as much as $18 billion in civil penalties for polluting the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 disaster.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier presided over a trial without a jury to apportion blame for the accident that killed 11 drilling rig workers and spewed oil for 87 days. The case also included drilling rig owner Transocean and cement contractor Halliburton Energy Services.

The judge ruled that BP bears 67% of the blame, Transocean is responsible for 30%, and Halliburton takes 3%.

In his decision, Barbier said BP made “profit-driven decisions” during the drilling of the well that led to the deadly blowout. “These instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks,” he wrote.

BP strongly disputes the court’s claim of gross negligence and says it will appeal. The finding “is not supported by the evidence at trial. The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case,” the company states.

Barbier’s ruling clears the way for the government to impose fines to the maximum extent allowed, depending on the volume of oil believed to have been spilled into the Gulf during the months it took to cap the well. Under the Clean Water Act, a determination of gross negligence or willful misconduct allows for fines as high as $4,300 per barrel.

The judge did not rule on the amount of oil spilled, a major point of contention between the government and BP. The government estimates that 4.2 million bbl of oil, or 176 million gal, spilled into the Gulf. But BP pegs the amount at 2.45 million bbl, or nearly 103 million gal. Hearings that begin in January will assess the size of the spill and the per-barrel fine to be levied.

BP says it has already spent more than $24 billion in expenses related to the spill, including cleanup costs and compensation to affected businesses and residents. The company estimates it will pay a total of $42 billion to resolve its spill-related liability.

BP pleaded guilty in January 2013 to manslaughter charges for the rig workers’ deaths and agreed to pay a record $4 billion fine as part of its agreement with the Justice Department. But the deal did not resolve the federal government’s civil claims against BP.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.