Refusing to Come Clean: BP Denies Alleged Safety Violations Tied to Gulf Oil Spill


Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), a national leader on energy and the environment, calls it “appalling.” And he’s right. In yet another “adding insult to injury” moment for Gulf Coast residents who continue to limp toward recovery, BP and other responsible parties are appealing multiple citations from the Interior Department alleging offshore safety violations in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

BP’s audacity in refusing to accept any scintilla of responsibility for what U.S. Rep. Markey (not to mention a series of investigative reports) describes as “neglect, shortcuts, and mistakes that led to this disaster” is enraging elected officials from the Gulf Coast to Capitol Hill. Here’s how the energy industry news source, Fuel Fix, covered the development in a Jan. 6 report:

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said that BP, which majority-owned the ill-fated Macondo well; Halliburton, the cement contractor on the project; and Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, appealed all the citations they’ve received to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

The citations, called “incidents of noncompliance,” are the first step in bringing civil penalties against the companies, which some government reports have said share the blame in the April 20, 2010, disaster that killed 11 workers and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

In October, the Environmental Enforcement Bureau accused BP of violating seven regulations governing work on the outer continental shelf. Transocean and Halliburton were hit with four alleged violations each. The alleged infractions range from failing to keep the well under control to pollution and unsafe operations at the site.

BP, a serial safety violator, was slapped with another round of citations just last month relating to mandatory pressure tests the company failed to conduct on the Macondo Well. The citations shed light on the string of egregious lapses and failures aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. They also reveal the series of very real opportunities BP had to prevent the disaster. More from the Fuel Fix report:

The agency hit BP with five more citations in December, alleging among other things that the British oil giant failed to conduct required pressure tests and to suspend drilling operations at the Macondo when work slipped outside the safe drilling margin that had been identified in the company’s government-approved permit to drill.

The drilling margin represents the difference between the pressure exerted by oil and gas in the underground formation and the countervailing weight and pressure of drilling fluids at the site. If the downhole drilling mud pressure exceeds the forces exerted by the formation itself, it can cause cracks to develop.

BP’s appeal of the 12 citations is a clear indication that the oil giant has no intention of straying from its hardball, “admit no evil” strategy as the massive multi-district litigation trial gets set to begin in late February to determine blame and assess damages for the 200-million-gallon spill. But it’s a risky strategy and it could very well come back to haunt BP during the punitive-damages phase of the trial. The oil giant’s refusal to admit any fault whatsoever and its complete lack of remorse for the immense damage it caused to the Gulf Coast may not – and should not – sit well with New Orleans judge Carl Barbier who is presiding over the upcoming trial.

An official statement from U.S. Rep. Markey is indicative of how most level-headed people feel: “The three companies (BP, Halliburton and Transocean) should accept these violations as an already small punishment for the huge harm they inflicted on the people of the Gulf.” The maximum penalty for each incident is approximately $3 million, which amounts to chump change for a company as wealthy as BP.

We’ll soon see if BP’s hubris pays off or if the company’s hardball, “no remorse” strategy will result in a large punitive-damage award for victims of the spill.

Read the full Fuel Fix report here:

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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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