On April 20th, 2010, the semi-submersible oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded -- causing one of the most catastrophic oil spills in history. The rig was owned by Transocean, a large offshore drilling contractor and leased by British Petroleum, the oil and gas giant, otherwise known as "BP." The Deepwater Horizon rig was one of the largest deep water drilling rigs ever built, measuring 396 feet long and 256 feet wide. It burned for 36 hours until a final explosion sank it.
There were 126 crewmembers on board at the time, 11 died and many more have been injured. Since the explosion, the oil rig is believed to be spilling 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico creating, an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.
This incident is one of many catastrophic events in BP's troubling history. In fact, the giant oil conglomerate has been responsible for some of the largest environmental disasters of the last decade.
In 2004, there was a refinery explosion that killed several people and injured many more. A year later, in 2005, BP was responsible for another enormous explosion at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, which killed 15 people and injured 170 workers. Investigations were conducted determining that a warning system had been disabled due to BP's failure to follow its own safety regulations. Ultimately, the company pled guilty to criminal felony claims and was fined $50 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and faced countless lawsuits. The two BP refinery explosions account for 20 of the 29 deaths at U.S. refineries from 2005 to 2008.
In 2006, BP was forced to shut down operations in Prudhoe Bay after inspecting a pipeline that was severely corroded causing an oil spill despite being warned to check the pipeline in 2002. Once again, BP was fined $12 million for a violation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
After the oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, BP America President Robert Malone told Fortune Magazine that while "visiting facilities across the country and talking to employees and management...[one could not] draw a systemic problem in BP America. What I've seen is refineries and facilities and plants that are operating to the highest level of safety and integrity standards."
Despite BP's insistence that it follows high safety standards, in 2008 and 2009, BP had more issues with 3 oil pipelines in Alaska that were ruptured, clogged or could have caused serious explosions. Additionally, BP settled with the U.S. Department of Justice for $300 million after it was charged with manipulating the price of propane.
Even in this most recent disaster, BP's malfeasance proved catastrophic. As McClatchy reports, following the outbreak of the original fire, "BP engineers tried to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment but failed because the device had been so altered that diagrams BP got from the equipment's owner didn't match the supposedly failsafe device's configuration."
BP's frequent safety violations have not gone unnoticed by congress. In January 14, 2010, only a couple of months prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to BP President John Minge outlining its concerns with BP's poor safety record.
President Barack Obama has said that the oil giant will foot the bill for the massive clean-up effort currently under way, and indicated that the environmental and economic damages associated with this spill will be severe stating, "The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our gulf states and it could extend for a long time...It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home."
BP must also be held accountable for the financial ruin of its crewmembers physically injured during the explosion as well as those companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, whose businesses could be affected for years to come.
It seems, however, that BP has no intention of taking responsibility for its behavior. Recent reports claim that, as soon as evacuated employees arrived on land, after escaping the fire, then the explosion and having been up for almost two days straight, they were given papers to sign stating that they were no witnesses to what happened and that they were not injured. Basically, the company forced these men to sign away their legal rights.
Despite BP's best efforts to avoid accountability, many personal injury lawsuits have been already been filed in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Several class actions have been filed in Florida and Louisiana on behalf of businesses operating in the Gulf that have been severely impacted by the spill. Plaintiffs' attorneys have requested that the lawsuits be consolidated into Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL"). The MDL panel will hear arguments in July and may consolidate the BP oil spill cases in an MDL in Houston.
Corporations, like BP, that operate with an eye on their bottom line, as opposed to the safety of its operations must be held accountable. Justice must be provided to those whose lives and livelihoods have been left in shambles by this corporate giant's negligent behavior.
Ed Blizzard is a Houston attorney who specializes in Mass Torts and has played an instrumental role in some of the largest mass tort cases. He was one of the principal negotiators of $4.85 billion dollar Vioxx settlement. Additionally, Ed has participated in leadership roles on the steering committee and negotiating committee of some of the largest MDLs in the country.