Almost two weeks have passed since Judge Carl Barbier handed down his blistering opinion apportioning a majority of the fault to BP for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. As a follow-up to last week’s article, which detailed Judge Barbier’s ruling, we aim to dig deeper: Judge Barbier found that BP’s “gross” negligence opens them up to enhanced civil penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA). But what does this mean for BP? Was this the right result?
The thrust of Judge Barbier’s opinion was to apportion fault, or responsibility, for the harrowing 87-day oil spill which followed Deepwater Horizon’s explosion. As we noted in last week’s article, Judge Barbier found BP 67 percent at fault for the spill and reserved only 30 percent and 3 percent for Transocean and Halliburton, respectively. Importantly, and the subject of this week’s in-depth look at his ruling, Judge Barbier found that BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct” opens them up to enhanced civil penalties under the Clean Water Act. Under the CWA, where a “person” causes a hazardous oil spill in navigable waters of the United States, and where this spill is the “result of gross negligence or willful misconduct… the person shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $100,000, and not more than $3,000 per barrel of oil or unit of reportable quantity of hazardous substance discharged.” 33 U.S.C. §1321(b)(7)(D). As Judge Barbier notes, this enhanced penalty provision does not require any “specific level of corporate management,” but instead opens up enhanced penalties to entities who violate this provision of the Clean Water Act whether it’s the result of systemic, gross negligence or not.