BP Stoops Low to Dodge Spill Fines


Well, we all knew it was only a matter of time. BP is finally making its highly anticipated move to wiggle out of fines tied to its 200-million-gallon oil spill. Company officials are arguing, among other things (equally nonsensical), that the government should base the fine amounts on the “number of days” that the oil flowed rather than on “how much” oil flowed.

Make sense? Well…not if you happen to live on planet earth. This new line of argument signals the official end of the “Make It Right” PR campaign. The company’s true colors are bleeding through – and it ain’t a pretty sight.

The specific issue is how the fines will be determined, and the Houston Chronicle did the math in its recent report, noting: “…the daily figure fines could run from $2.8 million to $4.9 million, depending on whether one uses the date the well was capped or permanently sealed. The per-barrel figure could lead to fines ranging from $4.1 billion to more than $20 billion.”

Not unexpectedly, the BP-recommended “number of days” fine is billions of dollars less than the “amount of oil” fine. Surprised? Again, probably not…if you happen to live on planet earth.

The more general issue is how much things change once they get to court. BP’s argument comes as the deadline approaches for the oil giant to respond to a lawsuit filed last December by the U.S. Department of Justice. The suit seeks civil environmental penalties. BP is also arguing that “…the other [responsible] companies should share remediation costs and fines, and that cleanup and restoration costs the U.S. charges BP should be reduced by whatever sums BP has paid or will pay state governments for those same services.”

Look, I’ve sued oil companies for decades and trust me, the BP lawyers aren’t stupid – nor are they core members of the PR team. And it shows. The concept of using the “per day” method of fines is just one of many flimsy arguments the company will use to skirt responsibility and implicate others. The fact that this new approach contrasts so sharply with the PR offensive of “Make it Right” is only shocking because BP officials feel like they’ll actually get away with it. And it remains to be seen if they will.

Now we get to see how the government responds, and if the Justice Department proves a little more difficult to manage than the pro-industry folks at NOAA, BOEMRE and the Coast Guard.

Here’s the Chronicle story: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/energy/7508609.html

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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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