Back In Court, Will BP Continue Paying For Oil Spill Cleanup?
It’s been nearly three years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster leaked 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and BP is still paying its dues. Representatives of the multinational oil giant appeared in a New Orleans court on Monday to fend off accusations of gross negligence made by federal prosecutors and lawyers from five Gulf states.
“This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties,” Rupert Bondy, BP’s general counsel, said in a press release before the trial. “We firmly believe that we were not grossly negligent.”
Bondy’s comments highlight the corporate shoulder-shrugging surrounding the case as BP insists it's not ultimately responsible for the disaster. Company spokesmen continue to extol BP's cleanup efforts, even as the environmental toll piles up.
“There’s no such thing as cleaning up an oil spill,” Dave Rauschkolb, founder of Hands Across the Sand, told Campus Progress. “No amount of money can compensate for the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico.”
Rauschkolb founded his organization in 2009, in response to the Florida legislature’s pursuit of near-shore drilling. The first demonstration, in which an estimated 10,000 Floridians literally linked hands to “create a human line in the sand,” took place on Feb. 13, 2010—just two months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“I wish I hadn’t been right,” Rauschkolb said.
Over the past couple of years the Hands protest has grown into an annual, international event with a huge youth following. The goal, Rauschkolb said, is two-fold: ending dependence on “dirty” energy and promoting renewable energy sources for the future.
“It doesn’t matter that BP happened to be the one to screw up,” Rauschkolb said, citing less-reported oil spills and other environmental tragedies around the world. Still, he said, the trial could set an important precedent.
In addition to seeking damages for the environmental impact, prosecutors aim to determine both the cause of the blowout that triggered the spill the level of responsibility among BP and its partners, which are numerous.
Up to this point, BP has shouldered the brunt of the blame. The company recently plead guilty to manslaughter for the deaths of 11 workers onboard the rig and agreed to a $4 billion settlement, according to Time magazine. Reuters reported that the company has set aside $3.5 billion for penalties under the Clean Water Act.
But the actual bill could be much higher.
Even after the Justice Department agreed Tuesday to exclude more than 800,000 barrels of “recaptured” oil from its assessment, BP still faces $17.6 billion in civil liability, according to The Guardian. Under the Restore Act, 80 percent of that amount would go to funding cleanup and restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast. The Justice Department has also offered a last-minute, $16 billion settlement deal, which BP could still take.
Whatever happens, Rauschkolb said, "They need to be spanked, and spanked hard." The next Hands Across the Sand demonstration is scheduled for May 18, he said.
Cody Bond is a reporter with Campus Progress.