By SABRINA CANFIELD
NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Louisiana demands more than $1 million a day from each of the companies responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in accord with the Louisiana Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1991, the Oil Pollution Act, and the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act.
In his federal complaint, Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell outlines BP’s and the other defendants’ disregard of safety practices and regulations every step of the way.
The attorney general says that before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, “warning signs of well flow were being transmitted to the rig, to Halliburton’s Houston office and BP E&P’s Houston office in real time for almost an hour before hydrocarbons reached the rig, alerting rig workers to shut down the well. Nevertheless, the rig workers apparently ignored these warning signs until it was too late. Moreover, during the critical hour before the well blowout, there was no one at the Halliburton or BP E&P offices to monitor this data and issue the appropriate warnings.”
(BP E&P stands for BP Exploration & Production.)
The complaint continues: “The initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon on the night of April 20, 2010, was caused when an engine in the rig’s engine room sucked in the gas vapors from the MGS vent pipe, causing the engine to overspeed.
“Gas sensors designed to help avoid explosions by shutting down these engines and closing air intake manifolds when flammable gas is present were not operational on the night of the incident. Gas alarms which would have alerted the crew to shut down the rig had been intentionally disarmed.”
The blowout killed 11 deaths and injured 17 and set off “the largest marine oil spill in history, with an approximate release of 4.9 million barrels of oil, methane gas and other pollutants.”
The petroleum products “invaded Louisiana’s waters and adjoining coastline, severely damaging Louisiana’s natural resources, such as wetlands, shorelines, habitat, and wildlife, endangering the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Louisiana. These impacts continue. Louisiana has been, and will continue to be, profoundly impacted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster and has incurred, and will continue to incur, significant costs and damages,” the complaint states.
“At the time of the incident, the Macondo well was months behind schedule and significantly over budget. Defendants made and/or authorized a number of reckless decisions concerning well design, cementing, and integrity testing in the interest of speed and cost savings, at the expense of safety and industry best practices,” it adds.
“BP E&P knew, or should have known, that the cement design and implementation had a very low probability of ever becoming an effective barrier to well flow.
“The spacer used in the cement job was a combination of Forma-set and Form-a-squeeze loss containment material (LCM) pills. This was leftover material that government regulations prohibited from discharge directly into the Gulf. However, if these materials are circulated in the well, a loophole in the regulations allowed them to be dumped overboard. BP E&P intentionally used these materials as a spacer in order to save the cost of having to transport them to shore and properly dispose of them, all the while knowing that they were not designed for that application and that cement contamination could result.”
Minerals Management Service regulations and industry standards required a blowout preventer as the last line of defense to a well blowout. But the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer (BOP) and control systems “were not properly configured, improper modifications were made to them, and they were not properly functioning at the time of the incident. In addition, required inspections and maintenance on the BOP was not performed,” the state says.
In line with its lack of regard for safety practices, when the Macondo well blew, BP gave oil flow estimates that were just a fraction of the actual flow, the attorney general says: “BP initially reported a leak of approximately 1,000 barrels a day on April 24, 2010. However, this figure was grossly underestimated and was replaced by exponentially growing figures on a repeated basis. Ultimately, after analysis of video footage of the oil leak, a government panel determined that the oil was flowing out of the well at a rate of at least 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day, or 1.7 to 2.5 million gallons a day.”
(Actually, the accurate flow rate, estimated by scientists as of June 15, 2010, was between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day, or 1.5 million gallons to 2.5 million gallons per day. One barrel of oil contains 42 gallons.)
Louisiana’s complaint states: “Oil, gas and other pollutants from the spill have, in one or more forms, invaded and continue to invade, Louisiana’s reedy freshwater, brackish and saline wetlands, and continue to impact new areas of the Louisiana coastline. Louisiana’s marshes, wetlands, shores, ecology, economy, tourism, fisheries, waters, and wildlife have been and will continue to be profoundly
impacted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“Southern Louisiana has 40 percent of the nation’s coastal wetlands. These wetlands provide a range of goods and services, including flood control, water purification, storm buffer, wildlife habitat, nursery grounds for aquatic life, and recreational areas. Hundreds of miles of shoreline have been impacted by the oil spill. Additional impacts will continue as the oil washes ashore and further saturates the wetlands it has reached.”
In addition, “Louisiana has a $3 billion fishing industry and is the source of a third of the seafood consumed in the United States, according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, a state-run agency. The negative impact of the spill on Louisiana fishermen, processors, charter boat operators, home ports and supporting infrastructure, such as cold storage, marinas, boatyards, suppliers, repair yards and transportation businesses, will be long-lasting and profound.”
The state estimates that 27,000 Louisianans’ jobs were affected by the spill, with damage particularly severe in the shellfish industry.
And, “As of February 15, 2011, the state has incurred at least $342,612 in unpaid response costs. … The full extent of costs expended and damages suffered by the State of Louisiana is not yet known.”
The state wants BP, Anadarko, Transocean, MOEX Offshore and others held “jointly, severally, and strictly liable, along with all other responsible parties, for unlimited removal costs and damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
“Each defendant is liable under La. R.S. 30:2025 for a civil penalty of not more than $32,500 for each day of violation ($50,000 for each day of violation of a compliance order issued by LDEQ), and for an additional penalty of not more than $1,000,000 for each day of violation,” according to the complaint.
The attorney general also wants the defendants ordered to reimburse the state for all “reasonable costs it may incur responding to the oil spill”
Named as defendants are BP Exploration & Production Inc., BP Corporation North America Inc., BP America Inc., BP plc, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Anadarko E&P Company LP, Transocean Holdings LLC, Triton Asset Leasing GmbH, Transocean Deepwater Inc., Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. and MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC.
By SABRINA CANFIELD