BP Oil Spill Estimate: How Low Will They Go?


No surprise here: BP, right on cue, is working on its own “estimate” for exactly how much crude gushed from its runaway Macondo well – preparing for the inevitable battles over fines and penalties and liability. Tens of billions of dollars are at stake, and trust me, this is where Adm. Thad Allen’s “go along to get along” attitude is going to cost us in a big way.

The AP breaks down the numbers: “Penalties can be levied against BP, which owned the well and was leasing the rig that exploded, under a variety of environmental protection laws, including fines of up to $1,100 under the Clean Water Act for each barrel of oil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct, the fine could be up to $4,300 per barrel.”

Let’s keep in mind that the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska was never really set in stone – court cases and other chances to set a firm number were settled.

The AP is reporting that the “murky” issues for the Gulf spill will include: “… whether BP would be given credit for the amount of oil that never touched the water. The government, sensing a legal fight, is not clarifying exactly how much of the oil actually entered the Gulf before being captured by various collection methods.”

It won’t get much more corporate-lobby hardball than this. Again, AP runs the numbers, using current spill estimates (which many feel are low). This from the AP report: “If the ultimate fine were based on the total amount of oil spilled from the well and BP were found to have committed gross negligence, it could be slapped with a penalty of up to $21 billion. The figure is important to the Gulf because Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is pushing legislation that would require that at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery.”

The problem here for Gulf residents is that many of us feel Adm. Thad Allen and the agencies he commanded have, thus far, sold us out at every juncture. First, going along with those now-infamous low-ball flow estimates. Then allowing unprecedented toxic dispersant use. Then using the Coast Guard as a BP security force (restricting access to impacted areas). Then declaring the mission “vastly” accomplished. Then allowing cleanup crews to exit while oil is still on beaches and in the ocean and washing ashore…the list goes on and on, including withholding environmental information from testing that could prove vital as this disaster progresses.

It will be very interesting to see just how low BP goes (with a straight corporate face) on its in-house flow “estimate.” Rest assured, we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

See the AP report here: http://blog.al.com/wire/2010/09/bp_works_on_own_estimate_for_a.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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