BP’s new outrage: We can’t pay because oil is too cheap


Every time that I hear or read about what the folks at BP are up to lately, I have the same thought: Can you believe these guys? Forget — if you can, for one minute — that these are the people whose gross negligence and corner-cutting caused 5 million barrels of crude oil to spew in to the Gulf of Mexico. in an accident that also claimed 11 lives. But since then, it’s been BP’s lawyers who spent days in open court pleading with the judge to approve the terms of its settlement with the Gulf businesses and clean-up workers that it harmed — only to turn around a short time later and beg for the deal to be thrown out, because it was too expensive.

BP’s determination not to make good the environmental harm that it’s caused since the 2010 catastrophe has led the company in some ridiculous directions. It’s even taken out ads attacking some of the people who were fully entitled to damages because of the massive hit to Gulf tourism in the early 2010s. To be clear, every court — all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court — has rejected BP’s frivolous arguments so far. But now there’s a new one:

 Benny Miller of the New Orleans-based Louisiana Seafood Exchange isn’t happy with BP’s recent decision to fight penalties for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that crippled the region’s economically vital seafood industry.

“They’re crazy if they think they can get away without paying just because oil prices are down,” said the general manager of the seafood wholesaler, which is involved in litigation against the oil giant.

Less than two weeks after a south Louisiana commercial fishing ground was reopened more than four years after one of the largest offshore oil spills in history, British oil giant is asking the federal government to lower its civil penalty, citing the recent steep drop in global oil prices.

The news comes as BP is trying to find as many ways possible to reduce its lingering oil spill liability. The company has taken a pretax charge of $43 billion to cover all spill costs, according to its latest regulatory filing. The money includes covering a federal civil penalty of up to $18 billion based on the amount of oil spilled, money that would go to the federal government.

In addition to fighting the federal penalty, BP is challenging a class-action settlement to local individuals and companies, saying the program is compensating for “claimants that suffered no injury from the spill,” a BP spokesperson said in an email to Bloomberg.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would take this argument seriously for more than 4-5 seconds. After all, BP was working the Deepwater Horizon rig in deep sea waters because of all the money it hoped to make, in a time when the price of a barrel of crude was sky high. So the fact that oil prices have abruptly crashed should have nothing whatsoever to do with their penalty. It’s always important to remember what the purpose of civil penalties is. The cost for a corporation of doing bad — ignoring basic safety procedures, for example — must be more than the cost of doing good. That’s how we make sure there is never a second Deepwater Horizon.

The states along the Gulf — including my home state of Louisiana — need BP’s fine money to pay for major projects to undo the ecological damage caused by the spill. Given their druthers, folks would have rather that Deepwater Horizon had never happened in the first place. But it did happen. And BP is going to have to accept that there’s no cheap way out.

Read more about BP’s new push to get its civil penalties reduced: http://www.ibtimes.com/bp-says-deepwater-horizon-spill-civil-penalty-should-be-lowered-along-oil-prices-1765084

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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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