A federal judge ruled Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in helping cause the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, and that the oil company is liable for 67 percent of the blame.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said in his decision that BP’s conduct was “reckless,” while the conduct of Halliburton and Transocean — the other two companies involved in the spill — was “negligent.” While BP was 67 percent responsible for the spill, Transocean, an offshore drilling company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, was 30 percent responsible, and Halliburton, the contracting company that was responsible for cementing the Macondo well, was only 3 percent responsible.
“The Court finds that BP’s conduct was ‘reckless’ under general maritime law and a substantial cause of the blowout, explosion, and oil spill,” the ruling reads. It documents Transocean’s transgressions relating to the spill, including “the drill crew’s misinterpretation of the negative pressure test,” and “the drill crew’s failure to detect the pressure anomaly between 9:08 p.m. and 9:14 p.m.” However, the judge ruled, “BP had a hand in most of these failures.”
“The Court also considers the proper actions taken by the marine crew following the explosions. BP’s conduct, by contrast, lacks similar balance,” the ruling reads. “For these reasons, the Court concludes that Transocean’s conduct was negligent and that Transocean’s share of liability is considerably less than BP’s.”
As Bloomberg notes, the ruling comes after four years of arguing over which company is to blame for the 2010 disaster that killed 11 people and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The U.S. Justice Department claimed in 2012 that the 2010 oil spill was an example of BP acting with “gross negligence and willful misconduct.”
The ruling opens BP up to a fine of $18 billion — the maxiumum penalty under the Clean Water Act — which the company could be charged if Judge Barbier later rules that, as U.S. prosecutors say, the disaster spilled more than 4 million gallons into the Gulf. BP told the Wall Street Journal that it plans to appeal the decision.
“The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case. BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the district court,” the company said.
The decision comes two days after Halliburton agreed to a $1.1 billion settlement accounting for the majority of the Gulf-spill-related lawsuits against the company. It also comes more than four years after the oil spill, a disaster whose overall damage to the Gulf environment scientists are still trying to quantify.