By Brien Southward
United States District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled that BP and Anadarko are liable under the Clean Water Act for oil discharge into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Judge Barbier also ruled that the two companies are liable for oil removal costs and damages under the Oil Pollution Act. "Anadarko and BP were the ones directly engaged in the enterprise which caused the spill," Barbier wrote in his decision.
Transocean has also been implicated in the disaster, but Judge Barbier ruled that it is not liable for the subsurface oil discharge. They could however be held liable for oil removal costs under the Oil Pollution Act. This aspect of the decision was hailed as a victory by Transocean, with Transocean spokesman Brian Kennedy calling it a win for "the long-term viability of the industry's operator-contractor model."
In October, Anadarko agreed to pay BP $4 billion for claims between the two companies. In return, BP indemnified Anadarko for most spill-related costs, with the exception of its share of the government fines. Under the provisions of the Clean Water Act, the govenrment can seek fines of up to $1100 per barrel of oil spilled, and $4300 per barrel when gross negligence or willful misconduct occur. For the Deepwater Horizon spill, the largest in the nation's history, that could mean up to $4.5 billion to $17.6 billion in fines, depending on the details of the ruling.
Offshore oil drilling in other parts of the country have been indirectly affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but this has not halted the progress of offshore operations here and around the world. Shell's spill response plan was for drilling in the arctic Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast was tentatively approved recently. BP recently signed a contract to construct new oil pipelines in the North Sea, and Total has secured three ultra-deepwater exploration licenses for sites near Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa.