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Found ‘Reckless’ in Gulf Spill, BP Faces $18 Billion Fine

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Setembro 4, 2014 - 8:52pm -- Alvaro
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. 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. BP quickly put out a statement saying it “strongly disagrees with the decision” and will immediately appeal to the United States Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. “Today’s ruling dramatically increases BP’s liability for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act and further sullies BP’s already badly damaged reputation,” said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section. “BP has long claimed that it was only negligent and that other companies were equally to blame for causing the Gulf oil spill. Judge Barbier’s ruling makes clear that BP knowingly took risks that caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and that BP was the worst culprit.” Under the Clean Water Act, the maximum penalty is $1,100 per barrel spilled where the court finds simple negligence and $4,300 per barrel where the court finds gross negligence or willful misconduct. BP said that during the penalty phase of the trial, it will “seek to show that its conduct merits a penalty that is less than the applicable maximum after application of the statutory factors.”
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