The Justice Department filed suit on Wednesday against BP Exploration and Production Inc. and eight other companies, seeking unlimited payments to cover ongoing cleanup costs and economic losses from the massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The civil complaint, filed in federal court in New Orleans, alleges that BP and others violated federal safety regulations and that those violations caused or contributed to the April 20 explosion and the oil spill that continued for nearly three months.
Eleven workers on the Deepwater Horizon offshore platform were killed in the initial blast. Nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil spewed into the Gulf before the well was capped on July 15. It was the largest oil spill in US history.
“We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages without limitation,” Attorney General Eric Holder announced in Washington.
Cleanup and other costs are expected to run into the billions.
Mr. Holder said the government is working to ensure that “American taxpayers are not forced to bear the costs of restoring the Gulf area and its economy.”
The complaint seeks to enforce provisions of the Oil Pollution Act, which government lawyers say provides for open-ended liability for pollution removal costs and other damages.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies failed to take necessary precautions to keep the oil well under control in the period leading up to the explosion. The companies also failed to rely on the best available and safest drilling technology, the suit says.
In addition, the companies are accused of failing to maintain continuous surveillance of the drilling operation and failing to ensure the safety and protection of workers, equipment, natural resources, and the environment.
The suit also seeks civil fines under the Clean Water Act for the oil that poured into the Gulf after the explosion.
In addition to BP, those named as defendants in the civil suit are Anadarko Exploration & Production LP, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, Triton Asset Leasing GMBH, Transocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc., and QBE Underwriting Ltd. QBE is Tranocean’s insurance company. [Editor's note: The original version misstated which firm QBE insured.]
Officials said the insurance company will be liable only up to the amount of BP’s insurance policy coverage. In addition, QBE is not being sued under the Clean Water Act.
“Over the past year, I have visited the Gulf region multiple times,” Holder told members of the press. “I have seen the devastation that this oil spill caused throughout the region – to individuals and families; to communities and businesses; to coastlines, wetlands, and wildlife.”
Holder said both civil and criminal investigations into the disaster are continuing. “We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those responsible for this spill,” he said.