In a bombshell federal court filing, U.S. government lawyers are slamming British Petroleum for making false and misleading statements that seek to both dodge blame for 2010’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and ignore the ongoing environmental devastation, from diseased dolphins to destroyed wetlands.

The papers filed late last week by the U.S. Justice Department’s top environmental lawyers and New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten charge that BP’s effort to show the fairness of a proposed $7.8 billion settlement with thousands of Gulf Coast residents and businesses harmed by the spill is instead larded with falsehoods.

The federal government’s 37-page objection to BP’s legal claims blast the oil giant’s “culture of corporate recklessness” that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and argue that BP wants the court to overlook deceased dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay and dying deep-sea corrals that are sickening fish in Gulf of Mexico.

And the feds are not alone in accusing BP of going over the line in trying to justify the pending $8.7 billion settlement. In a separate filing, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange also accuses the oil company of misrepresentation and argues that BP committed “willful misconduct” by attempting a risky “top kill” method to stop the 2010 spill, when it knew that method would fail.

The hard-hitting arguments against BP are in advance of a major November hearing before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. The judge is overseeing the massive civil case tied to BP’s liability for the spill, which dumped roughly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. Barbier is now tasked with deciding the fairness of a proposed settlement.

Scores of plaintiffs — including some represented by my law firm — are challenging the deal as unfair, ignoring issues such as the long-term neurological damage to clean-up workers and other Gulf residents who were exposed to massive amounts of the toxic dispersant Corexit that was deployed by BP.

Neither the federal government nor Alabama is a party to the $7.8 billion settlement. Instead, each is pursuing its own civil case — and, in the case of the federal government,  an ongoing criminal investigation — against BP in other proceedings slated to begin next year. In objecting to BP’s filing in this case — a defense of the settlement’s fairness — the feds and Alabama are expressing their concern that the proceedings before Barbier could, in effect, put a legal seal of approval on what they consider to be false or misleading claims by the oil company, which could then hurt their future cases.

Indeed, the federal papers state the goverment had no initially intention of getting involved with the proceedings before Barbier, but its lawyers were forced to respond because of “new evidence, and plainly misleading representations” made by BP. In essence, the feds are disputing the very factual underpinnings of the settlement.

The federal filing is hugely important for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it puts government agencies solidly behind some of the key allegations made on this blog and elsewhere over the past two years — that BP isn’t telling the truth when it tries to convince the American people in slick TV commercials that everything is back to normal in the Gulf and that BP is a responsible corporate citizen.

The filing notes:

* Dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, are showing signs of severe ill health.

* Certain deep-sea corrals have been identified as dead or dying, and populations of plankton-eating fish that reside on certain corrals are significantly decreased.

* Heavy marsh oiling that “could cause negative impacts to marsh vegetation for decades to come.”

Federal prosecutors state clearly that a multi-year, multi-million-dollar assessment of damage to natural resources caused by the Deepwater Horizon shows what it calls “indications of harm” to the environment along the Gulf Coast. It notes — in a stark rebuttal of BP’s claims of a major recovery in the Gulf ecology — that “while it is true that many resources are in a better condition than at the height of the spill, — after all, they are no longer slathered in layers of BP’s oil — it is also true that they continue to suffer significant harm…”

The court filing notes — as has been reported here in the past — that scientific research has shown that the oil spill has killed off marsh vegetation and doubled the rate of wetlands erosion in some locations.  It also calls attention to research showing significant tissue damage and reproductive problems with minnow-like killifish in the Gulf. And it points out that major long-term studies of the impact of the BP oil spill on other key species — shrimp, crab and oyster, among others — are far from finished.

In addition to its assertions on the long-term environmental impacts, the rebuttal from the government’s lawyers comes down hardest on BP’s campaign to minimize the recklessness displayed in its operation of the Deepwater Horizon rig and in key decisions made before, during, and after the catastrophe. The filing focuses on key emails between BP managers in the days and hours before the rig explosion on April 20, 2010 — emails that were ignored in BP’s argument that the settlement is fair.

Just as BP attempted to have the public, Congress and others focus only on what happened on the rig or in other offshore offices of its contractors, the BP engineers and executives who drafted these and other documents were the people who actually exercised the direct authority and control over  nearly every aspect of what ultimately went wrong with the rig on April 20th. The behavior, words and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling sized company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall. Yet they were condoned in a corporation engaged in an activity in which no less a witness than Tony Heyward [the former CEO] himself described comparable to exploring outer space.

The government notes that while BP’s reports and court filings have sought to pin the Aug. 20 explosion at the rig on a remarkable series of technical and systemic failures happening at once, its arguments ignore “the systemic management or corporate-driven, ‘profit over safety’ causes that allowed the individual mechanical and technical failures to manifest..” It states that U.S. attorneys intend to show “gross negligence or wilful misconduct” when it brings its own case to court.

The federal rebuttal focuses considerable attention on a failed pressure test on concrete barriers in the rig that took place shortly before the explosion, noting that the problems with the April 20 test should have prompted an immediate response from BP and its managers that might have averted the catastrophe. “That such a simple and yet fundamental and safety-critically test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence.”

The short filing by the Alabama attorney general’s office focuses on another failure by BP — involving the so-called “top kill” method that failed in stopping the spill that spring — which lawyers argue caused 1 million additional barrels to flow from the crippled rig, further polluting the state’s beaches and wetlands.

The Alabama filing notes:

We also intend to prove that BP represented to the federal government and the public that the flow rate was 5,000 bpf (barrels per day), while having knowledge that the flow rate was significantly higher. At the same time, BP proceeded with the “top kill” method, even though BP knew that a) a top kill risked well integrity and thus further delay or permanent damage b) a top kill would be unsuccessful at 15,000 bpd or greater and c) the flow rate was far greater than 15,000 bpd. We intend to prove that BP’s ordering of the risky top kill, which BP knew was predestined to fail, amounted to willful misconduct which delayed the capping of the well by several weeks — weeks in which an additional 1+million barrels of oil unnecessarily entered the Gulf.

It’s hard to stress the critical importance of these court filings by the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Alabama. They stand as powerful confirmation of some of the issues that led me to start writing this blog in the first place — proof that both the gross misconduct of BP and the ongoing harm that it has caused to the Gulf and to the coastline are much greater than the American public realizes. I believe there will be be significant fallout, as these allegations also stand as proof that BP’s settlement terms are far from adequate. The people of the Gulf deserve much better.

To read the U.S. Justice Department filing in the case, please go to: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/7229-2.pdf

To read the Alabama attorney general’s filing, go to: http://www.stuarthsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/7223.pdf

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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21 comments

  1.    Reply

    didn’t the skinflints at bp grudgingly set aside 20 billion to cover damages? that was pr while their lawyers could beat down the claims for damages.

  2.    Reply

    Gulf shrimp just returned to our grocery store in Appleton, Wisconsin. Went on-line to research its safety and found your amazing website. The whole nation has suffered from this corporate crime because of once beloved, now polluted, Gulf seafood. Never been a fan of trial lawyers, but you changed my mind. Will follow and refer your website. Thanks.

  3.    Reply

    […] The government are slamming BP for its commercials saying everything is ok in the Gulf and most places are better now than before the oil spill. Best commentary about the government case and objections to the BP Settlement is found here […]

  4.    Reply

    […] of the U.S. government’s legal assault on BP — a story that was broken on this blog Tuesday — has caused a sharp decline in the company’s stock price, which was off 4 percent in […]

  5.    Reply

    This has been a long time coming…
    IF I remember correctly however, the USA covernment was complicit in the cover up turning all power over to BP for the investigation and clean up.. Remember the arrests of reporters and others just trying to get photos, and the people that were evidencing and testifing to illnesses soon after that FARCE because of the corexit? ALSO, other experts that are documented as warning that there were better and safer products than corexit? AND, that the method of capping that was being used would fail!
    If memory serves,,, it was discovered that someone had an over abundant supply of corexit that they sold to BP at a reduced rate? THE US Gov. even had the coast Guard down there spouting the BP line of cover-up bull shite! Yeah, maybe the USA will win this action but THEY,, this administration and everyone that had any say in this Gov. about the actions or non-actions taken on the Gulf are complicite…
    I for one,, WILL NOT buy an seafood products from the Gulf, it is poison as proven now from the sick, dead and dying sea life and human destruction in the gulf…
    I also will not buy anything from the PACIFIC… The same thing is happening there, except instead of OIL and dispercent it is RADIATION that is being found in increasing ammounts In all the tests so far run… ONCE again our GOV and this administration has sat on their hands and DONE nothing about the radiation and poisons pouring into the Pacific and destroying the aqua culture, life and food sources of that great body of ocean…
    MAYBE the GOV. will stand up and DEMAND action of Japan one of these days when it becomes politically expedient to do so…
    Also if there is a monitary verdict rendered from this action you can bet not one person impacted from BP and this governments actions will see a dime of it… I hope more folks will write about this here, that have a better memory than I do…

    1.    Reply

      Thank you for your input. The more we can expose the truth, the faster justice will come to the gulf.

  6.    Reply

    Here is a stark Blunder by Bp that no one is doing a thing about. I hope the law firms see this. Bp has been known for years to have had petrol plants in Texas and Around America and side stepped safety and paid hush money to keep people quiet and or told their employees if you talk or make waves your fired KHOU TV Houston did a story on this when many people were burned at a Bp Plant in Texas City there have been more explosions and fires and many people hurt due to lax safety standards and not replacing old equipment. NW Bp was using corexit a known poison that was out lawed by the British and forced down American throats and Bp told the government to stick it and broke every law on the book as to the Gulf Disaster when a clean chemical had already been developed that eats oil and leaves no left overs developed At Texas A&M to clean oil spills.

    WHY were armed guards on boats threatening to jail or kill people a Jesse Ventura Conspiracy theory report with video and a cover up was done about Bp.This whole Gulf Disaster could have been stopped before the disaster IF PEOPLE would have done their jobs and inspected this whole drilling plan and the corrupt workers who hid things and knew their POV was useless and no good.

    NOW a bigger disaster might be forming that is now started to happen in Louisiana. The MASSIVE sink hole and new found bubble areas and collapse of a salt dome.

    This needs to be checked out and something done from the Bp Gulf drilling site to the Great lakes. IMPENDING DISASTER MID USA.People need to start checking the fault lines that run to the great lakes, take soundings NASA needs to do x rays and sonar there could be something lurking that no one has seen yet. No one knows if the drilling area is safe and underwater submarines need to start checking the gulf bottom,where BP hit the Methane pocket. Here is what is going on and my take on the disaster.

    Assumption Parish Louisiana — Earlier it was reported the butane-filled well is only 1500 feet from the sinkhole and it will not be emptied. It may or may not we do not know not much coming out of the area.

    A breach of that well, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said, could be “catastrophic,” CNN reports.

    If ignited, the butane well would release as much explosive energy as 100 Hiroshima bombs, Deborah Dupré’s scientist sources told her Sunday.

    Potential butane explosive capacity calculated

    The 1.5 million barrels of liquid butane 1500 feet from the sinkhole has an explosive capacity of 100 Hiroshima nuclear bombs, 1.5 times the explosive force of the largest thermonuclear weapon in current service in the U.S., according to Wikipedia scientific data and popular citizen reporter, Dutchsince, and confirmed by Dupré’s sources this weekend.

    Excluding secondary oil and gas pipeline and refinery explosions, direct effects of such a single bomb blast in Bayou Corne, fifty miles from Baton Rouge, would include Donaldsonville, Louisiana, according to NUKEMAP simulations showing an H-bomb this size would produce:

    “Fire-ball radius: (central orange circle): 0.62 km / 0.39 mi. Maximum size of the nuclear fireball; relevance to lived effects depends on height of detonation.

    “Air blast radius: 3.8 km / 2.1 mi (red shaded circle) 20 psi overpressure; heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished; fatalities…

    YES here are the NUCLEAR PLANTS CLOSE TO THIS DISASTER. They include

    Waterford Nuclear Generating Station

    River Bend Nuclear Generating Station

    NOW THE OTHER BIG PROBLEM

    HUGE HUGE REFINERY and STORAGE TANK areas that could Explode : There are literately thousands of storage tanks some small many many have Hundreds of thousands of barrels of liquid storage all around the east south north and west of bayou Corne.

    HUGE Refineries all over the area all the way to the Texas state line. SOME SCIENTISTS NEED TO start checking the over pressure damage and how bad damage would be from the initial explosions. NO ONE HAS CALCULATED MASSIVE STORAGE EXPLOSIONS NOR REFINING companies going up in smoke and the people involved. MY GOD the WELLS the PUMPING wells pipeline terminal fires, that could blow away the homes and people killed ITS MASSIVE when you start looking at what is close and further out. How many refineries and storage ares that could blow up just from the shock waves and concussions and vacuum and over pressures. It is unthinkable being just GUT Honest.

    1.    Reply

      I agree BP needs to be held accountable for these transgressions! Thanks for your support.

  7.    Reply

    The american government must really be broke ,other wise they would still be in bed with BP,this sounds like the old story about closing the barn door after the horse ran off,THE right way would be to arrest the top officals of the company and put them in prison for the rest of their LIFE,anything less is another DOG AND PONY SHOW…………………..

  8.    Reply

    […] More… […]

  9.    Reply

    The Feds don’t care about BP contaminating anything. America is almost broke so the Feds are about to clean out all of the corrupt businesses and knife all of their banker buddies in the backs. The second the Feds think they have enough money, they will all BP “apologize” and then they will continue letting BP destroy all the waters of the Earth.

    1.    Reply

      Accountability is KEY. The best thing we can do is to keep exposing the truth and demanding justice.

  10.    Reply

    It seems completely ludicrous to ignore the role of Halliburton and Transocean in this disaster. They are of course “foreign” entities, but based in Texas, so out of the juridiction of our Courts. BP is an international corporation with a leagal presence in the USA – thus subject to US law. The Halliburton staff left the site when they realised that a disaster was imminent. There were NO BP staff on the platform. Mr Cheney’s company denies any resposiblity (wrong ciment) and Transocean refers allquestions to their Swiss lawyers

    1.    Reply

      Good point. Thanks for your input.

  11.    Reply

    […] last week, as noted by New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, the government filed an objection [PDF], even though it’s not a party to the case. The […]

  12.    Reply

    […] last week, as noted by New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, the government filed an objection [PDF], even though it’s not a party to the case. The […]

  13.    Reply

    The Fed response is still a great undestatement of the damage done to dolphin, turtle, and other sealife. What about the great number of dolphins killed and aborted all along the coast. Many “stranded” dolphins and most turtles were covered in oil. Where is reference to the NOAA evidence from necropsies and pathology tests. Or is that info being kept secret from US attorneys as well as the public.

  14.    Reply

    […] http://www.stuarthsmith.com/bombshell-feds-slam-bp-in-key-court-filing-admit-pollution-from-2010-spi… Don't be stingy, SHARE USFacebookStumbleUponShareEmailDiggPrint […]

  15.    Reply

    Woo! Woo! Can’t wipe the smile off my face.

    1.    Reply

      :)