The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

The Oil Spill Suit

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted December 16, 2010

The U.S. Justice Department filed suit against BP and eight other companies yesterday to recover billions of dollars from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. The administration's suit asks that the companies be held responsible for all cleanup costs and damage to natural resources.

Additional defendants could be added to the suit. "This is an ongoing process," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference.

workers clean.jpgWorkers clear the beach of Bon Secour Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Nov. 23, 2010

Image Source: BP

The suit acknowledges, however, that the full extent of damage isn't known. The government estimates that more than 200 million gallons of oil escaped from the well; but BP says the amount could be far less. The oil estimates are a key factor in determining penalties under the Clean Water Act. If BP's estimates are accepted, the maximum fine could be reduced greatly.

As New Orleans' Times-Picayune reported this week, a BP report from November challenges the oil estimates made by independent researchers and government-endorsed groups. It also explains some of the problems experienced in estimating the flow amount. According to the newspaper, the Flow Rate Technical Group's modeling and assumptions may have been flawed, possibly leading to an exaggeration of the total oil that flowed into the ocean. Underwater videos reportedly support BP's contention.

Bill Lehr, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a member of the Flow Rate Technical Group that assessed the well's flow, said, "More information is needed to evaluate the issues raised by BP, as well as more time."

In the five months since the leaking Macondo well was capped, the oil and natural gas industry has redoubled its commitment to safety. It has formed task forces to examine offshore operations, provided recommendations to the Interior Department, made public its standards and recommended practices, and launched an effort to build and deploy equipment and a highly-trained team to respond to any similar incident in the Gulf. Simply put, the industry is doing everything it can to improve safety, protect the environment, and continue producing oil and natural gas for American consumers.