06/23/2010 08:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BP Halts Watchdog Lawsuit On Legal Technicality

A lawsuit filed by watchdog group Food & Water Watch against the U.S. Minerals Management Service alleging that BP's Atlantis oil rig is unsafe has been suspended for 60 days on the basis of a technicality -- the oil giant claimed it didn't have enough notice to respond to the complaint.

"Due to BP's intervention in Food & Water Watch's request for a temporary injunction to halt production on the company's Atlantis platform, we have decided to dismiss our current lawsuit against the U.S. Minerals Management Service," explained Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "With oil still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, it is a shame that BP is spending valuable time and resources to block our efforts to protect the Gulf from another potential calamity. Rather than resorting to delay tactics, BP should be focusing its attention on the mess it has made there, and on ensuring the safe operation of its Atlantis platform. MMS on its part should complete its investigation of Atlantis in days, rather than months."

Section 1349 of U.S. Code 43 requires that all parties implicated in a lawsuit be given 60 days' notice. Food & Water Watch overlooked this legal technicality and when BP asked to become a party to the suit, the watchdog was forced to terminate the original case and refile it in two months' time.

The lag time could mean different things for different parties. For Food & Water Watch, it means exposing the Gulf to risk for two months longer than necessary. For BP, it means more money: The Atlantis produces 200,000 barrels of oil each day and with oil at roughly $80 per barrel, BP stands to lose $16 million a day if the Atlantis is shut down, meaning the 60-day delay could be worth $960 million to the company. And for the MMS, it means a window to rethink its stance. The suit was first filed in July of 2009, long before the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20 and began what has become the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Given the national scene, a new head of the organization and two months, the MMS -- renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement as of Monday -- might alter its position.

But Kate Fried, spokesperson for Food & Water Watch, did not sound optimistic. Food & Water Watch has asked to meet with new MMS head Michael Bromwich to discuss closing the BP Atlantis until it is proven safe.

"So far, we have seen no evidence that MMS is modifying its approach in this whatsoever," said Fried.