Judge Rules BP Grossly Negligent In 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

It might be an understatement to say that BP hasn’t had the best go of it the last four years. You know – that huge oil spill, the deaths of dozens of workers and, of course, being named the 2011 Worst Company in America by Consumerist readers. Well, things aren’t looking much better, as the company was found negligent in that 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout.

According to a report from the New York Times, a federal judge ruled on Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in the Deepwater Horizon accident that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in our time.

The ruling opens the door for BP to face some of the highest fines – up to $18 billion – under the Clean Water Act.

In his decision, District Judge Carl J. Barbier wrote that BP repeatedly ignored mounting warning signs that the well was unstable, making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

According to the Times, Barbier noted that the crew members ignored test results that may have prevented the disaster even if its final moments.

In the past BP has acknowledged its responsibility for the accident, but maintained that the blame should be shared by all companies that operated the Deepwater Horizon rig.

While the judge also ruled that Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the company that cemented the well, both played a part in the incident, most of his ire was directed toward BP.

Barbier says that the fault finally lies with BP, either because it was responsible for the most fundamental problems or because contractual relationships made clear that BP was fundamentally responsible.

The decision placed 67% of the blame for the spill on BP because the company owned the lease to the well and was responsible for overseeing all of the drilling work. Transocean, which already agreed to pay $1.4 billion for violating the Clean Water Act, received 30% of the blame and Halliburton just 3%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, BP issued a statement saying it “strongly disagreed with the decision” and would appeal to the United States Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Officials with the company said the ruling was “not supported by the evidence at trial. The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case.”

Barbier must now rule on how much oil was spilled in the accident in order to determine the fines the company must pay.

The Clean Water Act sets the maximum penalty at $4,300 per barrel spilled when gross negligence or willful misconduct is ruled by the courts.

But the financial costs for BP likely won’t end in Barbier’s court. The company, which as already paid out $28 billion in claims for the oil spill, faces a number of lawsuits from individuals and businesses regarding the spill.

Additionally, BP already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties. However the company continued to battle plaintiffs over the interpretation of the settlement, saying that some undeserving plaintiffs were receiving payments, the Times reports.

BP Negligent in 2010 Oil Spill, U.S. Judge Rules [The New York Times]