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DOJ Slams BP

Filing Calls Out Oil Giant for 'Gross Negligence' in Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Threatens Trial

After countless reports and hearings undertaken by the rest of the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on the Big Oozy this week. Legally speaking, things are getting even more disgusting for BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as prospects for a settlement with the feds may be dimming.


The feds issued a filing early this week that accuses the British oil giant of "gross negligence" for the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and threatens to take BP to court if it doesn't agree. Gross negligence is legalese for a blatant violation, or serious carelessness in a breach of the law. BP said they do not believe they are grossly negligent.


In the filing, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say they didn't want to weigh in on BP's settlement with Gulf Coast individuals, but were brought in to after the company filed papers that were "plainly misleading." The papers sought to push blame for the disaster onto other parties and make it seem like the recovery was going so well that legal damages wouldn't be necessary.


The filing appears to be a warning shot of the feds' case against the oil giant, should the litigation over environmental damages caused by the Big Oozy go to court. BP and the feds are rumored to be in negotiations over a settlement that would make trial unnecessary, but still feature BP paying up for the havoc they wreaked on the Gulf Coast.


The filing specifically calls out BP's "culture of corporate recklessness," and lists the ways in which BP leaders ignored impending catastrophe in the leadup to the leak.


"The behavior, words, and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall," filing states. "Yet they were condoned in a corporation engaged in an activity that no less a witness than Tony Hayward himself described as comparable to exploring outer space."



The filing also calls the infamous negative pressure test performed by BP before the explosion, which was supposed to indicate that a disaster was coming, as "the epitome of gross negligence."



"Although deepwater drilling is as complex as it is dangerous, the 'negative pressure test” performed by BP and Transocean only hours before the blowout was not only simple to perform, but equally simple to comprehend – even for laymen unschooled in the most rudimentary principles of drilling," the filing states. "That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence."



The feds then go on to provide a primer on a negative pressure test, explaining how and why it should've been executed properly. The again describe the process as "exceedingly simple."



The Gulf Coast also gets a shoutout in the filing, as it details areas in which BP has attempted to make the cleanup and fallout from the disaster look better than it is. The feds argue that BP papers described the recovery as "robust," and sought to make it seem like the recovery is going so well that they don't need to pay anymore damages. The DOJ lawyers argue that many of BP's enviornmental claims are subject to "serious environmental debate," and outline four areas - coast, seafood, water and wetlands - in which the oil companies claims relied on "superficial" evidence.



"While it is true that many resources are in a better condition than at the height of the Spill – after all, they are no longer slathered in layers of BP’s oil – it is also true they continue to suffer significant harm from the Spill, and it is not possible at this time to conclude that they have recovered, despite the information that BP presents," the feds argue. "Furthermore, BP completely ignores numerous other aspects of the Gulf that demonstrate the continuing ecological disruption resulting from the Spill."



Additionally, the filing argues BP willfully ignored sick dolphins, polluted coral and heavy marsh oiling that will likely impact plant life for years to come.



The only purpose of the filing is to argue that Judge Carl Barbier should not rule on the above noted topics until the case against the feds goes to trial in January, 2013. But in the process, the federal government showed they were willing to get tough with BP despite all of the accusations that they were in bed with the company as the oil streamed out of the Macondo well.



Beyond the settlement that's already been reached, the filing has far-reaching implications on the agreement that If BP doesn't agree that it behaved with gross negligence, the feds indicated that they're prepared to go to court. Like many big companies, BP would likely rather leave a long, public airing of the disaster out of public view.



"I believe there will be be significant fallout, as these allegations also stand as proof that BP’s settlement terms are far from adequate," attorney Stuart Smith, who represents plaintiffs in the BP settlement with individuals, wrote. "The people of the Gulf deserve much better."




Read the full filing here.

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