On Thursday, United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled that BP acted with “conscious disregard of known risks” in the events that led up to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2010.
The New York Times reports that the ruling is a “milestone in environmental law given that this was the biggest offshore oil spill in American history.” By finding BP as Grossly Negligent as opposed to only Negligent, BP will be facing larger fines; potentially $18 billion in civil penalties.
According to the NY Times report, Judge Barbier:
“reconstructed the timeline from the risky decision to drill more deeply before stopping to the hellish final minutes of hissing gas and raining mud, concluding with the deadly fireball that erupted on the night of April 20, 2010.
“The hasty effort to temporarily shut down a drilling operation that was over budget and behind schedule led to what Judge Barbier called ‘a chain of failures’ culminating in the explosion and spill.'”
Judge Barbier analyzed the series of events and concluded that BP “skimped on tests that might have shown the problems caused by the shoddy work” and the tests that were conducted were interpreted either optimistically or with dishonesty so that the decisions BP made were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”
The important piece of the puzzle was a phone call between a high ranking “BP employee on the rig and an engineer in Houston that took place roughly 40 minutes before the explosion.” During the call they discussed the results of a pressure test that should have indicated a problem and initiated quick action to prevent a blowout of the well. BP omitted this call from their investigative report, which Judge Barbier found suspicious.
Judge Barbier found that BP is primarily cuplable in the blowout and following disaster, but also found that BP shared blame with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Halliburton, the contractor that oversaw a critical step in closing the well. While the other two parties were found to be negligent, only BP was found to be grossly negligent. Judge Barbier divided the blame as 67% to BP, 30% to Transocean, and 3% to Halliburton.
The blowout of the well resulted in an explosion that killed 11 workers on the rig and a devastating oil spill that affected the Gulf Coast. BP has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and has agreed to pay $4 billion in federal criminal penalties. BP has also spent almost $27 billion in efforts to clean up the offshore accident and is currently working to settle business claims. According to a report from The Washington Post, BP is currently operating 10 deepwater oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and has brought new wells online as well.