US lawyers claim Anadarko liable for share of gulf oil spill

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, June 7 -- Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is liable under US oil pollution laws for environmental damage caused by the April 2010 blowout of the Macondo well and the oil spill that followed in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a court filing by US government lawyers.

“Defendants are liable as a matter of law,” federal lawyers argued after Anadarko E&P, which owned most of the company’s 25% stake in the BP PLC-operated well, asked a federal judge in New Orleans to dismiss it from a Department of Justice lawsuit.

In April, Anadarko E&P asked to be dismissed from the lawsuit, saying that it had no interest in the lease at the time of the accident. Anadarko E&P told the court that its interest in the lease had been assigned to the parent company prior to the well’s blowout.

However, government lawyers asked US District Judge Carl Barbier to deny Anadarko E&P’s motion, asking instead for the court to find both the parent company and its affiliate liable under the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act.

“Liability under the OPA and the CWA is so straightforward here that the court—rather than dismissing the complaint—should enter summary judgment in favor of the United States,” government lawyers said in their filing.

They said any owner of an offshore lease that causes oil pollution is liable for damages or fines resulting from the accident, noting that Anadarko held a 2.5% stake and the exploration unit a 22.5% stake in the lease when the Macondo well blew out and the oil spill began.

“These two sets of facts alone suffice to establish liability under both the CWA and OPA, because the elements of liability are few, liability is strict, and defenses are limited,” the government filing said.

The federal lawyers said an assignment of an offshore lease or interest “is ineffective unless it is approved” by federal regulators.

They said the assignment to Anadarko E&P’s parent was not approved by federal regulators until Apr. 28, 2010, which therefore made the exploration unit “a lessee on the day the discharge commenced and OPA liability accrued.”

Government lawyers further argued that the court should not view Anadarko and Anadarko E&P unit as separate entities with different liabilities. They said that claims against either company “should not be dismissed on any ground until the relationships between the two Anadarko defendants is more fully explained.”

An Anadarko spokesman said the company is reviewing the filing.

Last December, the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency jointly sued to recover damages from the Apr. 20 Macondo well accident, which claimed 11 lives, and subsequent oil spill into the gulf.

Contact Eric Watkins at

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