BP Plc broke civil racketeering laws by engaging in a pattern of violations that caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to lawyers suing the company.
“BP engaged in a pattern of fraudulent conduct directed at regulators from the inception of the Macondo project, continuing through and after the spill and to this day,” Stephen Herman and James Roy, lawyers for hundreds of oil-spill victims, said today in a filing in federal court in New Orleans. “BP’s fraudulent actions and omissions were part of a broader pattern of unlawful conduct that it has employed over the years to place profits over safety.”
Herman and Roy are liaison counsel for a committee representing plaintiffs in more than 400 lawsuits over damages for personal and economic injuries caused by last April’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast.
The rig, which was owned by a unit of Transocean Ltd., was drilling the well, named Macondo, for BP at the time of the blast. BP is the only company named as a defendant in the spill victims’ master civil RICO complaint.
Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman, declined to comment on the filing.
BP’s own report into the Deepwater Horizon disaster placed much of the blame on its contractors, including rig owner Transocean and Halliburton Energy Services, which provided cementing services for the well. BP has consistently maintained that cost considerations don’t compromise safety in company operations.
Herman and Roy claim in the 93-page filing that London-based BP knowingly broke U.S. environmental laws, skirted federal rules and regulations governing offshore oil and gas extraction, and misrepresented its ability to stop and clean up a deepwater spill.
They cite examples of BP conduct taken from reports issued by the Obama administration’s presidential spill commission and the University of California at Berkeley’s Deepwater Horizon Study Group. Details are also drawn from documents and testimony presented to Congress and a joint panel of offshore regulators and the U.S. Coast Guard, which is also investigating the incident.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill “were foreshadowed by a string of disastrous incidents and near misses in BP’s operations on land and at sea,” Herman and Roy said. “BP has, since at least 2001, used this enterprise to conduct the related acts of mail and wire fraud comprising the pattern of racketeering.”
The victims’ lawyers claim BP overlooked or downplayed the importance of “significant problems related to the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment and maintenance.” The rig was leased to BP for its entire nine-year history.
BP was “on notice” of problems concerning the rig’s blowout preventer, alarm systems, ballast systems and other “significant deficiencies” after a September 2009 company audit of the Deepwater Horizon found 390 overdue maintenance jobs, many of which were of high priority, the lawyers said.
They also claim BP well managers intentionally misrepresented portions of the Macondo well-drilling plan to regulators and misled spill responders on the best methods for stopping the underwater gusher, which released more than 4.1 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at firstname.lastname@example.org; Allen M. Johnson Jr. in New Orleans at email@example.com.