BP trial showing the world that Big Oil cannot be trusted


Like a lot of you, I’ve been keeping a close eye on what is happening with the BP civil trial here in New Orleans. As I wrote last week, the airing of what really happened on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010 — in a case that many of us never thought would ever come to trial — has been a Godsend of vital information for the American public. I applaud the U.S. Justice Department for pushing this case forward, to prove what we’ve all known from Day One, which is that British Petroleum, with aid from rig owner Transocean and main contractor Halliburton, is guilty of gross negligence, leading to the spill of millions of barrels of oil.

In Week One of testimony before U.S. District Justice Carl Barbier, there has been one theme that has been successfully hammered home again and again and again — that corners were continually cut, and that safety always took a back seat to the almighty dollar, even in an industry that rakes in tens of billions of dollars in profit every quarter. And when they realized what they had done, they desperately tried to cover their tracks. Here is just one example:

BP’s false assertions that only 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing from its Macondo well in May 2010 resulted in the use of at least one method to attempt to stem the flow that was doomed to fail, says a motion filed in federal court Friday by attorneys for Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. In its motion, Transocean argues it should not be subject to damages for as much as 60 days of the 87-day spill because of BP’s falsifications.

The motion came at the end of the first week of the civil trial before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier Jr. over the liability of BP, Transocean and other companies involved in the Macondo well blowout in April 2010.

Oil and gas from BP’s Macondo well flowed to the deck of the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010, where it exploded, causing a fire that resulted in the rig’s sinking two days later, and the death of 11 workers. When the rig sank, oil and gas flowed continuously into the Gulf of Mexico from the well and from the collapsed riser pipe that was on the Gulf floor, about a mile below the surface.

BP initially estimated the amount of oil flowing from the well at 5,000 barrels a day, and continued to repeat that estimate in public statements and in meetings and communications with a variety of federal officials, says the Transocean motion. Portions of the motion, including the names of many of the BP individuals who were making more valid estimates and the individuals with whom they were communicating, are redacted from the motion. Transocean’s motion argues that BP admitted lying about the amount of hydrocarbons released by the well in its guilty plea to federal criminal charges tied to the accident, including 11 counts of manslaughter.

I guess this why they call it the justice system, because these revelations in the criminal plea and now in the civil trial are no small measure of vindication for me and for my allies in the Louisiana environmental community who gathered evidence and pressed our case within hours of the rig explosion that BP was lying about the extent of the spill. What’s even more tragic is that we now know — not surprisingly — that these lies hampered the early efforts to bring the spill under control, when the damage to the Gulf was not as nearly as extensive as it would become.

And why did BP lie in the first place? The answer seems increasingly obvious: The company did not the world to find out that it had ignored so many warning signs of this catastrophe that not only did untold environmental damage but killed 11 workers. Here is a particularly telling revelation about that which came out back in 2010 and should be seared into the public’s consciousness:

 Tony Buzbee, a lawyer representing 15 rig workers and dozens of shrimpers, seafood restaurants, and dock workers, says he has obtained a three-page signed statement from a crew member on the boat that rescued the burning rig’s workers. The sailor, whom Buzbee refuses to name for fear of costing him his job, was on the ship’s bridge when Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, a top employee of rig owner Transocean, was speaking with someone in Houston via satellite phone. Buzbee told Mother Jones that, according to this witness account, Harrell was screaming, “Are you fucking happy? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”

Yup — they knew. So why does this matter? Are we talking about just some rogue behavior about a few bad apples from BP who committed gross negligence? Sadly, no. Just read the headlines at any given time and you’re likely to see numerous reminders of how Big Oil scrimps on safety, and it’s the ecology that pays the price. Grist.com has a very good piece now showing how a deluge of oil spills in putting the news of the BP trial in a sadder, more important context:

Little attention is paid to this steady stream of spills. That’s in part because company and government officials often labor to convince us that each single spill is minor, unimportant, and environmentally benign.

This week, while BP was defending itself in court against claims and potential fines stemming from the 2010 disaster, emergency responders were kept busy dealing with new oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

For example:

A 42-foot offshore oil service boat crashed Tuesday evening into a retired oil and gas wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Sulphur, La., causing a geyser of crude to spray into the air.


After a resident of Tyler County, Texas, noticed a disgusting smell last Saturday, oil was discovered leaking from a pipeline and into a creek a couple of miles away. The oil had likely been leaking for at least several days before it was noticed. The pipeline was shut down, but not before an estimated 550 barrels seeped into the environment. Crews are working to mop up the oil and officials are downplaying the incident as, yes, small. Move along folks, nothing to see here.


A pipeline ruptured recently in Izom, Nigeria, coating nearby rivers and farms in crude oil. The pipeline, which had been laid in 1977, was repaired last weekend and put back into service by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

You get the picture. This is why the BP trial is so important on so many levels. The more the public learns about the shoddy practices of Big Oil, the more Americans should line up behind strict but sensible regulation. But the  only thing that really gets through to the oil tycoons is the threat of seeing billions of dollars slip through their greedy hands. That is what the government is threatening to take from BP. We’ll keep you posted.

To read more about BP’s false assertions about the initial extent of the Deepwater Horizon spill, please see: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/03/post_41.html#incart_river

To learn more about Mother Jones’ revelations about rig safety problems from 2010, please read: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/06/rigs-fire-i-told-you-was-gonna-happen

To read the story from Grist.com about the ongoing outbreak of oil spills, go to: http://grist.org/news/as-bp-battles-in-court-over-deepwater-horizon-oil-spills-are-happening-all-over-the-place/

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved


1 comment

  • At yahoo finance in the article titled ” BP executive defends report on gulf oil spill ” on their comment section a person named maserati tells and interesting story based on a interview given to 60 minutes a week or do after initial explosion of well given by the chief electrical engineer .

    It’s rather interesting story has bp flying some of the importants of of the rig because they feared an explosion could happen and some other juice stuff – might complement the interview you have .

    If true though they could actually go for wilful negligence … even after the spill their response was grossly negligent and had a tint of malice to it . I refer to them timing the quick pay scheme with Christmas and of course theirs others .

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