Journalism in the Public Interest

The BP Oil Spill Saga: Where Things Stand Now


(Photo courtesy of Deepwater Horizon Response)

The BP oil spill in the Gulf killed 11 workers in April, released nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and triggered multiple government investigations and an overhaul of the nation's offshore drilling regulatory agency.

Federal scientists estimated in August that between 53,000 and 62,000 barrels spilled into the Gulf each day until the well was temporarily plugged in July. BP has contested those numbers, arguing that the figures are flawed [PDF]. If the company prevails, it could reduce the size of its per-barrel pollution fines by billions of dollars, as well as what it may eventually have to pay to the government in lost royalties if the spill is found to be a result of BP's negligence.

For its role in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, BP currently faces a civil lawsuit by the Department of Justice. BP's well partners Anadarko and MOEX, rig operator Transocean and Transocean's insurer have also been named as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks to recover the government's removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages resulting from the spilled oil.

A criminal investigation is ongoing and could result in additional financial penalties. As the Blog of LegalTimes pointed out in a blog post, Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that conducting parallel civil and criminal proceedings can be "a little tricky." If criminal charges are filed, those per-barrel fines for Clean Water Act violations could come into play in addition to fines under the Refuse Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

BP has stated repeatedly that it will disregard a $75-million cap on its liability for economic damages -- a limit set forth in the 1990 Oil Pollution Act. Although the Government Accountability Office has for years said that such liability limits are too low, Republican lawmakers repeatedly blocked attempts this summer to raise or lift the current limit.

We've reported that even before the deadly incident in the Gulf, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency had long considered debarring BP for recurrent misconduct and environmental crimes. It's an option that is still on the table for regulators now -- especially if the government's investigations find that the company had a culture of carelessness and non-compliance.

If BP is convicted of Clean Water Act violations, the company would automatically face a lesser form of debarment that affects only the facility involved in the spill. In this case, it's unclear whether this would mean the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig, a broader set of BP's Gulf platforms, or whether it would include the company's command center in Houston. In its most serious form, debarment would end the entire company's business with the government and cancel BP's billions' worth of leases to drill on federal land -- though as the New York Times has noted, contractors like BP often end up protected from such sanctions because of their size and the extent of the government's dependence on them.

Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive at the time of the spill, gained notoriety for saying, "I would like my life back," predicting that the disaster's environmental impact would be "very, very modest," and asserting that his company was releasing a "tiny" amount of oil and dispersant relative to the size of the Gulf of Mexico. Hayward has since been reassigned and replaced by Robert Dudley, the British company's first American CEO. BP's public relations department has also seen a shakeup, with its chief press spokesman during the spill making his exit last month.

The spill also put a spotlight on an offshore drilling regulatory agency that for years had been riddled with scandals over ethical problems, improper handling of royalties and lax oversight of an industry with which it kept too-friendly ties. The offshore drilling agency was renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy, given new leadership, and split into three separate divisions. However, the President's own oil spill commission, a panel tasked with investigating the circumstances of the spill, has said that the changes do not sufficiently address the agency's conflicts of interest. It remains to be seen whether additional changes will be implemented to address these concerns.

Politically, the Obama administration's position on offshore drilling has undergone a sea change. It recently announced that it would be rescinding an earlier plan to open up the eastern Gulf and the Atlantic coast to new offshore drilling. Those areas will remain off limits for at least another seven years.

Though the administration in October lifted a controversial temporary moratorium on new offshore drilling, pro-drilling Gulf lawmakers and the offshore oil and gas industry have criticized the revamped regulatory agency for slowing down the approval process for drilling permits. They've complained that the heightened review is burdensome and serves as a de facto moratorium.

Many questions remain unanswered about the long-term health and environmental effects of the crude oil and the unprecedented amount of dispersant, chemicals BP used to break down the thick crude. Both BP and the government have committed funding for continued study of these issues.

Study of the oil's fate and its impact on the marine environment will likely continue for months and years to come, but many independent scientists have produced preliminary research seemingly at odds with a rosy government report and official statements in August that said that at least half of the oil released was "completely gone from the system" and the rest was being quickly degraded.

Eight months after the spill, the safety of Gulf seafood is still being debated among toxicologists, some of whom allege that the Food and Drug Administration's seafood testing process is flawed, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The FDA's process does not certify that the products tested are free from contamination, but screens for contamination that reaches "levels of concern." Cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil have been detected in Gulf seafood, but according to the FDA have been found at levels that the agency considers to be safe.

Several agencies are still investigating the cause of the oil spill. The National Oil Spill Commission, is due to issue a complete report of its findings to the President in January. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department have been conducting a joint investigation, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a small federal agency that investigated BP's Texas City refinery explosion years prior, continues to investigate the spill at the request of lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wasn’t it a government agency (EPA) that also told first responders it was “safe” to go in on 9/11?  Government agencies are more concerned with making money than protecting the electorate.  It’s up to us to protect ourselves—too bad many think “it’s in print; it must be true” and can’t discern Fox from facts.

There is so much cover-up here that it’s sick. The seafood is absolutely not safe, what’s still alive. The use of corexit to clean up the mess is so criminal and yet nothing is being done. There is a safe method of cleaning up the spill that has been proven to work and incredibly cost effective, but it is being blocked by beaurocrats. We live in a plutocracy, so if it doesn’t benefit the vested interest, it won’t happen. Our government doesn’t really run this country, behemoth corporations do.

Carol Davidek-Waller

Dec. 28, 2010, 5:46 p.m.

Eric Holder has a rich assortment of corporate crime to pursue but in two years has no convictions. I don’t even think he’s gone to trial.
His civilan role as a lawyer for Chiquita Banana in which he defended a subsidiary of their who supported para military groups that murdered civilians seems to have set the tone for his DOJ.
He opens dozens of investigations that result in nothing. If you do the crime, you won’t do the time as long as Holder and his ilk run the show.

From Alaska, to Texas, and now the Gulf, BP has a long track record of safety violations and a disregard for any actions that may impair profits.  Yet the EPA has no fortitude to debar BP from government contracts, no criminal suits have been filed, and the mere fact there is a miniscule 75 million cap on liability for these behemoth companies indicates the government is no more serious in reigning in this reckless behavior than these companies are themselves.  Rest assured you are not alone.  Here in Canada production at the Alberta oil sands is producing staggering amounts of pollution.  Our “tar sands” have been internationally criticized as one of the world’s largest industrial sources of greenhouse gases, not to mention all of the toxins making their way into many water systems.  The country providing the largest U.S. oil and gas imports come from - yes Canada - and many are unaware they are importing our pollution as well….free of charge (for that I apologize).  Yet, like BP, there is reluctance and a turtle like response in addressing many of these dangerous issues in a meaningful way.  I hope we have not become a society so dependent on oil that we cannot see right from wrong.  So far, the evidence is anything but convincing.

I don’t normally subscribe to the conspiracy theorist point of view but there were so many coincidental triggers in place eleven days before the explosion that a case can easily be made that would draw in question the innocence of actions leading up to the tragic events of April 20, 2010.

Former Governor, Jesse Ventura offers some interesting facts that highlight actions by the BP brass that are if anything questionable if connected to the explosion that followed eleven days later.

The program highlights several issues that were not known before the broadcast.

Having experienced the GCCF Claims process and the lies and unethical treatment heaped upon us claimants during a stressful time where businesses, lives, and families are changed forever. Supports the contention of Jesse Ventura, that something is indeed rotten from the top down.

James Thompson

Dec. 30, 2010, 9:52 a.m.

BP could have used a Sonic Cut Off Vale Blow Out Preventer, and nothing Bad would have happended!
Also a BP Exeutive gave the Order to remove the Drilling Mud, which would have prevented a Blow Out, even though Deep Well Pressure was Rising towards a Blow Out!  This BP Executive should be chaged with Mansloughter!  BP should recieve Double Maximum Punishment because it helped Corrupt the Federal Regulators whose Job was to Prevent Blow Outs! 
Vice President Cheney was the Driving Force behand the Corruption of Federal Agencies, and should be given a 150 year sentence to keep Bernard Madoff Company!
A Vice President has NO Authority At All, unless the US President gave it to him, so President Bush’s Delegation of Authority should be Investigated to see if it was Legal, and did not By Pass Federal Laws, that require anyone delegated authority by the President meet some mimimum standards, which I do not believe VP Cheney Met, or Could Meet!  US Attorney General Eric Holder is laying down on the Job, and failing to live up to his Constitutioal Responsibilities!

James Thompson

Dec. 30, 2010, 10:09 a.m.

There is a question of whether many Attorney Generals can fully be responsive to the Public Interest, when before entering their Appointive Government Political Office, they were employed by organizations similar to those they must severely Prosecute; once they leave Public Office they may have to return to the type of organizations their Public Office required them to Prosecute!  Thus US Attorney Generals have every Temptation to Lay Down on the Job when it comes to Prosecuting organizations similar to those their Public Duties reqquire them to Severely Prosecute!  To Assure their Public Office Courage, Supreme Court Justices
and Congress Persons are given Excellent Penisions even after only One Term in Office!  This Beneficial Public Practice must be Extended to the US Attorney General’s Office and those of his Top Aides!The Attorney General and his Office must not be Made the Weak Link in Laws Protecting the Public!

Below is a link to a new News Survey that I created relating to this article. Survcast is a new site that enables anyone to ask and answer questions related to news articles in ways that measure public opinions. They call it community controlled news analysis. I find it incredibly interesting and post there regularly.  Perhaps if enough people express their opinions in measurable ways maybe the BP jerks in three piece suits will be shut down before the next environmental disaster occurs. Here is the link where you can express your opinions, or create your own news Surv:

Photos can be seen in the original article.

“Last week, published a story on Open Channel documenting the apparent continued use of dispersants beyond the official cutoff date of July 19 by response teams working on the Gulf oil spill. Laboratory testing of samples from a large patch of reddish foam found floating near Horn Island, off the coast of Mississippi, on Aug. 9 found that the foam was indeed composed of chemical dispersant and BP oil.

The documentation lent credence to anecdotal reports from coastal residents that use of the controversial chemicals did not cease in mid-July, as the Joint Command for the oil spill maintains.

The previous Open Channel post prompted a submission by reader Shirley Tillman, who lives in the coastal town of Pass Christian, Miss.  Tillman, 60, has been walking the beach for years, and worked with her husband on a “vessel of opportunity” in the clean-up effort until mid-August.

Since mid-July she has been photographing dead wildlife and gunk washing ashore. She feels certain the latter is dispersed BP oil.


“When the tide is coming in, this stuff starts washing up,” said Tillman. “It’s white fluffy, foamy stuff —kind of like a meringue. This stuff clings together … like snot.”

The photographs below, which she says were taken on the beach at Gulfport on Dec. 29, show what she is talking about.

Shirley Tillman

Foam on a beach near Pass Christian, Miss. on Dec. 29. Photographer and local resident Shirley Tillman believes it is oil and dispersant.
According to the official account of the oil spill response, about 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant were applied to break up the oil slick—about two-thirds sprayed on the surface by boats and planes and the rest injected near the broken wellhead about a mile beneath the surface.

Shirley Tillman

Sand on a beach in Pass Christian, Miss. The red gunk resembles dispersed oil, according to photographer and local resident Shirley Tillman.
Tillman doesn’t buy the Joint Command’s insistence that the use of dispersants has been halted, and she is not alone in her belief that nighttime air traffic over the gulf is due to dispersant spraying by C-130 aircraft, which also were used during the initial response.

“The air traffic is constant,” she said. Her theory:  “Spotter planes go out during the day, write down the problem spots are. … Then you can sit on the beach at night and watch (C-130s) going back and forth.”

Unlike Moran’s goo, the gunk sighted by Tillman has not been laboratory tested to verify her suspicions that it is oil mixed with dispersant. Tillman said she is trying to get chemical testing for the samples she has retrieved from her beach.”

Regarding Corexit here is a video that all Americans should watch entitled, “The oil spill’s toxic trade-off” Susan Shaw is a world renowned toxicologist. She explains the devastation that is unfolding in no uncertain terms, and this website allows you to share your opinions in measurable ways that can become actionable!

all one has to do is go out on West Beach in Gulf Shores, Al. or Ft. Morgan, AL. to see the foamy stuff washing up on the beach…it is degraded oil mixed with dispersant.  there is obviously a lack of transparency on the part of the public officials who insist the beaches are clean and the gulf is safe.  that is just not true…i see the beaches every single day of my life and breathe the air near the gulf and it is not safe!!  mark my words, within 2 years, it will come to pass that the area is polluted.

How do I find out if the company I worked for received a claim because if the company got compensated how could they not pay mine ?????

We need an immediate call to action where everyone with a claim sues Bp for delayed offers. it is past the point where most businesses can survive another day and they haven’t even sent more than 10% of the claims for an offer. This is absurd. They claim not enough documentation and that is mostly a crock. We haven’t received any request for anything and not even a offer has gotten here yet. If we go to the courts you can be assured we are going for blood as is all claimant with attorneys.If they haven’t made offers to us and everyone by the end of this week (03/04/2011)  then we are going forward with creating a class action for the delay, deny and defend strategy already taking place.They want more legal and media cost then they will be seeing this on Monday the 7th as well as everyone in the Gulf states and their attorney generals joining together in a fight that BP will lose.

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Gulf Oil Spill

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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