Court battle looms over oil spill

By Cain Burdeau and Harry R. Weber
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — While solemn commemorations marked the first anniversary of the calamitous BP oil spill, legal claims filed by the oil giant and other companies involved in the disaster show that lengthy court battles lay ahead.

Around the Gulf Coast last Wednesday, residents said prayers on the beach and lit candles in the heart of New Orleans, while relatives flew over the sea where 11 rig workers died a year ago.

In New Orleans courts, BP filed lawsuits alleging negligence by the rig owner and the maker of the device that failed to stop the spill. The blowout preventer maker and rig owner filed their own claims. BP said in its lawsuit filed in federal court in New Orleans that Cameron International provided a blowout preventer with a faulty design, alleging that negligence    by the manufacturer helped cause the disaster. The lawsuit seeks damages to help BP pay for the tens of billions of dollars in liabilities it has incurred from the disaster.

It also was seeking $40 billion from rig owner Transocean, accusing it of causing last year’s deadly blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

BP says every single safety system and device and well control procedure on the Deepwater Horizon rig failed.

The lawsuit against Cameron said the blowout preventer “was unreasonably dangerous, and has caused and continues to cause harm, loss, injuries, and damages.”

Houston-based Cameron noted in a statement emailed to AP that Wednesday was the deadline under the relevant statute for all parties to file claims against each other. It said it has filed claims of its own to protect itself.

Also Wednesday, Transocean filed court papers demanding that judgments be made against BP, Cameron and other companies in its favor.

The disaster began on the night of April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon burst into flames and killed the 11 men.

The rest of the crew evacuated, but two days later, the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the sea floor.

Over the next 85 days, 206 million gallons of oil — 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled — spewed from the well.

Relatives of the workers boarded a helicopter Wednesday to see the waters where their loved ones perished.

The helicopter took them from New Orleans out to the well site, circled around so people on both sides of the aircraft could see and then returned to shore, said Arleen Weise, whose son, Adam, was killed on the rig. Seventeen family members, one Transocean official and two pilots were aboard the chopper.

“It was just a little emotional, seeing where they were,” Weise said by phone from Houston, where rig owner Transocean planned an evening memorial service.
Asked what went through her mind when she saw where the rig went down, Weise said, “Just rise up. I wanted them to come up, but it didn’t happen.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama paid tribute to those killed and said that despite significant progress toward mitigating the spill’s worst impacts, “the job isn’t done.”

“We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that they’ve caused,” he said.
A presidential commission has concluded that a cascade of technical and managerial failures — including a faulty cement job — caused the disaster.
BP, the oil giant which owns the blown-out well, has paid billions in cleanup costs and to compensate victims.

The company has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, but it might have to pay many billions more, especially if its officials were to be found criminally negligent in pending investigations and trials.

BP said in a statement that it wants Transocean to pay its “proportionate” share of those damages and liabilities.

Transocean called BP’s lawsuit “desperate,” “specious,” and “unconscionable.”

“The Deepwater Horizon was a world-class drilling rig manned by a top-flight crew that was put in jeopardy by BP, the operator of the Macondo well, thorough a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk — in some cases, severely,” Transocean said in a statement.

BP also is suing cement contractor Halliburton alleging fraud, negligence and concealing material facts in connection with its work on the rig.
Along the coast, some signs point toward normalcy returning.

John Williams spent the oil spill anniversary trying to catch mackerel on the fishing pier at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hundreds lined the pier.
The state banned anglers from keeping their catch off the pier last year because of the oil, but coolers were full of big redfish and king mackerel Wednesday.
“People will be back. It’s pretty down here, and it’s good to be out here,” said Williams, of Daphne.

Members of 10 Alabama churches gathered on a public beach in Orange Beach, Ala., during a daylong prayer vigil.

As families played in the surf and BP cleanup workers scoured the beach a few miles west for tarballs, Abe Feingold sat under an awning with friends and said a prayer.

“It’s for BP not to forget us,” said Feingold, of Orange Beach. “If they keep reimbursing people, we’ll recover.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said more than 300 miles of his state’s coastline continues to see some BP oil.

He was joined by the presidents of six coastal parishes for a commemoration on Grand Isle, a coastal barrier island that took major impact from the oil. Playing on a theme in BP’s advertising during the spill, Jindal urged the company to continue to fund coastal restoration and to speed up claims payments to those affected by the oil.

“We continue to call on BP to fulfill the promises of their ads. We continue to call on BP to truly make it right.”

Harry Cheramie, a shrimp boat captain in Grand Isle, is pleased with the state of the Gulf shrimping industry.

His boat, the “Ace of Trade,” is hauling in shrimp at a healthy clip, with no obvious effects from the spill that disrupted his business a year ago.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything is back to normal,” he said.

But he worries about the future, fearing that BP’s oil and its dispersants pose a hidden threat and could jeopardize the next generation of shrimp.
That’s why he refused to settle his claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for $25,000, an offer he called “a joke.”

“Things are normal right now, but we don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” he said. “I want to believe that we won’t see any effects.”