British petroleum (BP) was founded may 1908 and has since
then become a leader in today’s oil and gas markets. As of 2012 it ranked 6th
amongst all other competitors and has kept that ranking through until today
(PFC Energy, 2012). As well as oil and gas the company also helps to provide
and distribute other renewable sources of energy across a total of 72
countries. However, this report aims to look at one of the company’s largest
disasters which happened in the Gulf of Mexico when a disaster on a mining rig
ran by Transocean led to one of the largest marine oil spills of our time. I
hope to cover not only the crimes committed by such a large company in the wake
of this disaster but the litigation that followed. The following is a timeline
of the events that eventually lead to the sinking of Deepwater Horizon: It all
began on April the 1st, when an employee named Marvin Volek showed
concerns about the use of cement in the oil well and believed that what they
were doing was not up to the high standard it should have been (Urbina, 2010).
Next on April the 6th BP were given the go ahead and granted
permission to begin mining. However, with this permission came a warning of gas
in the well as well as the possibility of flowing water. This was ignored and
BP’s plans for the boring of the well went ahead as originally planned (Wald,
2010). By April the 9th BP’s well borer had reached the final stages
of drilling into the oceans floor however it is decided that at this depth the
well should have a much stronger casing. Casing helps stabilise the structure
of the well and helps prevent collapse or obstruction of the drill. This being
said BP went ahead and decided to use a more basic casing liner as it would not
only save them time but money. April 14th, employee Brian Morel said
in an email that he felt this mining operation so far had been a mess leaving
other employees seemingly in a state of disarray. April 15th, “Centralizers.
When the final string of casing was installed, one key challenge was making
sure the casing ran down the centre of the well bore. As the American Petroleum
Institute’s recommended practices explain, if the casing is not centred,
“it is difficult, if not impossible, to displace mud effectively from the
narrow side of the annulus,” resulting in a faiku cement job.
Halliburton, the contractor hired by BP to cement the well, warned BP that the
well could have a “SEVERE gas flow problem” if BP lowered the final
string of casing with only six centralizers instead of the 21 recommended by
Halliburton. BP rejected Halliburton’s advice to use additional
centralizers. In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision
explained: “it will take 10 hours to install them. … I do not like this.”
Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with
insufficient centralizers but commented: “who cares, it’s done, end
of story, will probably be fine.”” (The Hill, 2010). Edging
ever closer to the day of disaster on the 18th of April reports were
filed that there was an issue within the well and that a team should be brought
in to test the cement had bound correctly, this is required by law. April the
20th finally came around and although it was strongly recommended
that BP conduct a thorough check on the cementing of the well, again they chose
to cut corners and instead cancelled the scheduled test in an effort to cut
corners and save yet more money on an already expensive venture. At this point
the drilling rig was already a massive 43 days behind and had already cost BP
an extra $21 million (Urbina, 2010). “At 9:49 pm that same day Andrea Fleytas
had been monitoring the dynamic positioning system on the bridge of the Horizon
when she felt a jolt. Before she could make sense of it – a rig shaking shock
that came out of nowhere – magenta warnings began flashing on her screen.
Magenta meant the most dangerous level of combustible gas intrusion.” (Konrad
and Shroder, 2011). By 9:56pm the oil rig being used by the company
British Petroleum became engulfed in flames following an explosion created by
natural gas as the rig drilled into the sea bed for crude oil (Radio, 2018). As
the explosion took place and flames began to burn though the drilling rig there
were a total of 126 members on board, most were rescued by the local coast
guards but unfortunately 11 bodies were never recovered. Over the next two days
the rig continued to burn and eventually sank on the 22nd of April
(The Independent, 2010). It was only after the Deepwater horizon had sunk that
the true extent of the issue could be seen as oil began to gather around the
area which was once home to the drilling  
 rig. Following the incident
thousands of gallons of crude oil began continued to spill from within the well
that had been bored into the ocean floor. Over the course of the next few days
it was estimated that more than 200 million gallons of oil left the well after
it had been opened which led to this disaster being declared as the largest oil
spill in unites states history (Dosomething.org, N.D.), it was eventually
stopped 87 days after the initial spill in July 2010. The clean up began almost
immediately following the spillage with up to 47,000 people and 7,000 ships spending
thousands of hours skimming the ocean to collect oil from its surface as well
as inducing controlled burning of the spilled pollutant and clearing up what
had washed up on the coastline (Anon, 2010). Although everything was done to
try and stop the oil from spreading it is estimated that the oil impacted an
area between 2,500 and 68,000 square miles (Web.archive.org, 2010). As well as
the most obvious impact on the water it also had a detrimental impact on the
wildlife. Wherever the oil spread wildlife began to die, birds became covered
in crude oil making them unable to fly and eventually causing them to die. In
an interview with Thomas Shirley, a marine biologist from the university of
Texas he said that “Despite decades of
intensive oil drilling, the inventory showed that the Gulf of Mexico still harboured
15,700 species of sea life. In the area immediately surrounding the spill,
Shirley and his fellow scientists tallied 8,332 species of plants and animals,
including more than 1,200 fish (such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna), more than
1,500 crustaceans (including the blue crab), and 29 marine mammals (including
bottlenose dolphins)” (Web.archive.org, 2010). He goes on to say that although
the immediate effects can no longer be seen on the surface the consequences of
this spillage will be felt for many years to come as the ecosystem struggles to
recover and re-stabalise itself.

 

As can be imagined the backlash that
followed this great spill was immense with people all over the world in uproar
over how this could have possibly happened in the first place. But the one
thing people seemed to want more than reason as to why it happened was someone
to blame and for that person to pay for the damage they had caused. From the
moment the spill began prosecutors were already trying to decide who was at
fault and how that could be proved in a court of law. Many sources pointed
towards negligence being the source of the disaster however, “Some may
question whether criminal prosecution is appropriate based on the Gulf tragedy.
Soon after the spill began, Texas Governor Rick Perry called the explosion “an
act of God.” Tea Party activist and U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul argued that
we should avoid the blame game in the Gulf because “accidents happen.”” (Repository.law.umich.edu,
2010).
As can be imagined the main focus of prosecutors were crimes committed under
environmental law such as the migratory bird act 1918 and the clean water act
1972.

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The migratory bird act was brought in
to protect birds that migrate between the United States and Great Britain and
covered not only the bird itself but its feathers, eggs and even their nests. “The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service issues permits for
otherwise prohibited activities under the act. These include permits for
taxidermy, falconry, propagation, scientific and educational use, and
depredation, an example of the latter being the killing of geese near an
airport, where they pose a danger to aircraft.” (En.wikipedia.org, 2017).
Unfortunately, the real extent of the damage on the birds following the spill
is unknown as most of the research that does exist on the matter is not
available to the public and has been retained by the US government to be
released at a later date following the completion on any legal action being
taken against BP. In a study conducted by J. Christopher Haney, Harold Geiger
and Jeffery Short they estimated that anywhere up to 800,000 birds died as a direct
result from the spill (Audubon, 2014). As it stands the current fine for
breaching the migratory bird act is $15,000 and up to six months in jail and to
put that in perspective if the maximum fine were to be paid per bird it would
total 12 billion dollars alone and would come with a jail sentence so
ridiculous it isn’t even worth contemplating. With that in mind after BP
pleaded guilty to damages to wildlife under this act they only paid $4 billion
in damages which was then dedicated to helping restore the heavily damaged
ecosystem in an attempt to return it to its former glory (US EPA, 2013).                                           –
add more

Moving on from the
migratory bird act we have the clean water act of 1972. The clean water act was
originally created to help protect the waters of the United States. It aimed to
put restrictions on companies stopping them from dumping waste into rivers
whether intentionally or unintentionally. It also made it possible to set a
standard that all water should adhere to before it is deemed polluted and gave
birth to a new set of grants to help in providing sewage treatment plants (US
EPA, 2017). For first time offenders the sentence carries a minimum fine of
2,500 dollars and a maximum of 25,000 dollars per day that the pollutant
continues to affect the water source. As well as this the offender can receive
up to a year in jail as well as a much larger 50,000 dollars per day fine if
they have been convicted previously. However, if the water source is
intentionally being polluted regardless of knowing the risk of their actions
the accused can receive a fine up to $1,000,000 dollars and up to fifteen years
imprisonment (En.wikipedia.org, 2018). The case that breached the clean water
act was brought before a united states district judge by the name of Carl
Barbier and it was his belief that the disaster was a direct result of BP’s
gross negligence. This withheld in court and therefore now threatened BP with a
fine that could see them paying out a further 18 billion dollars for their part
in the oil spill. In the business of oil, it is normal that the products volume
is measured in barrels and therefore when it comes to setting the fine the
amount is calculated per barrel. Now the judge can force the accused to pay up
to 4,300 dollars per barrel but they are able to lower this amount at their own
discretion if they so wish (New Orleans Sun, 2014). After reading the evidence
the judge also ruled that spill total amounted to 4.2 million barrels which of
course BP disputed in court suggesting the amount was in fact much smaller and
only totalled a mere 2.5 million barrels, almost half of that suggested
originally. With this in mind BP did seek to clear up the mess they had created
but just like before with their estimates of oil spilt they weren’t exactly
truthful. BP had hired its own team of scientists to begin collecting data that
would show the world their clean-up efforts were being successful. Due to the
fact that BP now ‘owned’ this important data it was free to only release what
it believed worked in their favour and could simply bury anything that
suggested otherwise (Bradshaw, 2012).

 

Finally, we have the
11 counts of manslaughter. In the wake of the disaster almost every crew member
had been accounted for, all but 11 crewmembers made it off the rig without
being significantly hurt. Manslaughter usually carries a sentence of anywhere
between Unfortunately, the other 11 were never found and as this was a direct
result of the explosion BP now began facing a suit for involuntary
manslaughter. It was decided that two men who had been working on the rig in
charge of overseeing the drilling operation should be held accountable for the
11 deaths caused in 2010. Both Robert Kaluza and Donald Virdrine were both
accused of negligence for choosing to cut important corners when it came to
testing the safety and integrity of the well, as well as that they also failed
to pass on the relevant information to their superiors regarding the results
they actually did receive (CBsnews.com, 2012). Of all the incidents that occurred
either during or following the incident this was the only one that came with a
threat of jail time. That being said fortunately for the defendants the
punishment for involuntary manslaughter is considerably lighter than other
forms of murder with a minimum sentence of only 12 months (Findlaw, n,d). At
this time the case for these two members is still being fought in court with no
final decision having been made so far. As well as the two workers BP as a
company were also brought forward on the 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter
which they pleaded guilty to. “As part of
BP’s guilty plea, it will retain a monitor for four years, tasked with
overseeing safety, risk management and equipment maintenance in relation to
deepwater drilling in the Gulf, as well as an independent auditor, who will
conduct annual reviews to ensure compliance. The company will also hire an
ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct.” (SHP –
Health and Safety News, Legislation, PPE, CPD and Resources, 2012).

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