The US Department of Justice leveled a $4 billion judgement against BP for its criminal behavior in the explosion at its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010. The Guardian characterized the judgement this way: “BP met its day of reckoning in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster on Thursday when the company admitted guilt on 14 criminal charges…”
DOJ’s press release quoted Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer: “The explosion of the rig was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence.” That’s certainly nothing new for the oil industry. BP also incurred the wrath of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its enforcement director said: “The oil spill was catastrophic for the environment, but by hiding its severity BP also harmed another constituency – its own shareholders and the investing public who are entitled to transparency, accuracy and completeness of company information, particularly in times of crisis.”
The federal government is not, by any stretch of the imagination, done with BP and their contractors. It is seeking further penalties under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act. A trial on liability matters is scheduled to begin in February.
In the aftermath of the spill, a national commission was empaneled to look at the whys and the wherefores of what specifically happened and, beyond that, the implications for all offshore drilling activities. The commission was a truly blue-ribbon group, co-chaired by former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly. (I am, of course, quite proud that William Reilly wrote the foreword to my forthcoming book.)
The commission had a broad remit: offshore oil drilling, regulatory oversight of offshore drilling, containment of the well explosion and drilling safety, oil spill response, spill impacts and assessment, and restoration approaches and options. Their comprehensive final report included an array of recommendations for policy makers. They have provided a particularly useful series of multimedia presentations on the spill, the response and recommendations.
Of course much of the responsibility for offshore drilling operations falls under the purview of the Department of the Interior. In the wake of the BP catastrophe, measures were taken there to radically improve oversight, including a major reorganization of the relevant bureaus. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also been heavily involved in the clean-up and restoration.
Here’s a look at Attorney General Holder’s press conference: