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Judge: BP Was Reckless In Oil Spill

USA Today

A federal judge in New Orleans has ruled that BP's reckless conduct resulted in the nation's worst offshore oil spill, leaving the company open to billions of dollars in penalties.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's decision could nearly quadruple the amount of civil penalties for polluting the Gulf of Mexico with oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 – which killed 11 workers and sent crude gushing into the Gulf for three months.

Among those giving thumbs up to the ruling is Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson – who chairs the Florida Gulf Coast Consortium.

“While I don’t think it’s the final ruling because clearly, BP indicated they plan to appeal it,” said Robinson, “This was a very good initial ruling for all of us that will be receiving money from the RESTORE Act.”

BP does plan to appeal, saying in a news release that the company strongly disagrees with the decision, which exposes the company to about $18 billion in additional penalties. Robinson says this could have a major impact on the trial set for January, which will determine what BP must pay in fines under the Clean Water Act.

Judge Barbier also set the percentage of the blame for the spill. BP bears 67%; drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd. takes 30% of the blame, and cement contractor Halliburton Energy Service takes 3%.

“This is good in the sense that it begins to establish what’s going to happen, at least a baseline, that will either be confirmed or changed by the appellate court,” said Robinson. “I think it also begins to move some things down the road to set us up.”

Speaking in Pensacola last month, U-S Sen. Bill Nelson said BP’s liability was expected to land somewhere between one thousand and five thousand dollars per barrel of crude spilled into the Gulf.

“If you multiply that times five million barrels, you can see that you’re talking anywhere from $5 billion to $25 billion,” said Nelson.

Judge Carl Barbier has yet to rule on how much oil was spilled -- a key factor in determining the extent of BP’s fines.

The plaintiffs – who include the feds, Florida and four other Gulf Coast states, and private businesses – take away from the ruling a partial answer to their questions. But appeals are likely to add years to the case before final penalties are assessed.