The United States filed suit Wednesday against BP and eight other companies for damages stemming from this year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in US history.
The complaint was filed by the Justice Department with a federal court in New Orleans, where thousands of individuals and small businesses have already sued the oil giant.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the complaint alleges that “violations of safety and operational regulations” caused the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which sent nearly five millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf.
“We intend to prove that these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill and that the defendants are therefore responsible under the Oil Pollution Act for government removal losses, economic losses, as well as environmental damages.”
“We’re also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act which prohibits the unauthorized use of oil in the waters,” he said.
Holder listed a series of failures by those involved in the disaster.
He said necessary precautions weren’t taken to secure the well, the safest drilling technology was not used to monitor the well’s condition, continuous surveillance of the well was not maintained, and he faulted the safety equipment used.
The defendants named in the suit were BP Exploration and Production Inc; Transocean Deepwater Inc.; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc; Transocean Holdings LLC; Anadarko Exploration and Production LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; and QBE Underwriting Ltd/Lloyd’s syndicate 1036.
QBE/Lloyd, an insurer, was not being sued under the Clean Water Act and can be held liable only up to the amount of Transocean’s insurance policy coverage, the Justice Department said.
Justice Department lawyers have been conducting parallel civil and criminal investigations since the fiery explosion, which killed 11 workers and toppled the giant rig into Gulf of Mexico.
The rig’s collapse ruptured underwater risers, opening a torrent of oil that fouled environmentally fragile Gulf coasts for three months before it was finally capped.
“Even though the spill has been contained — even though it is no longer the focus of round-the-clock news coverage and the subject of front-page headlines — the Department’s focus on investigating this disaster, and preventing future devastation, has not wavered,” Holder said.
He said the legal action taken Wednesday, while critical, “is not a final step.”
“As our investigations continue, we will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those responsible for this spill,” he said.