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Appeals Court Rejects BP, Anadarko Attempt to Skirt Blame for Gulf Disaster

It was your well that released the oil so it's your fault, circuit court ruling tells oil giants.

A June 9 controlled burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. (Photo: Coast Guard Photo/Petty Officer First Class John Masson)

A June 9 controlled burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. (Photo: Coast Guard Photo/Petty Officer First Class John Masson)

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected BP and Anadarko Petroleum's efforts to evade billions of dollars in fines for Clean Water Act violations for the millions of barrels of oil that spewed from their well in the 2010 Gulf disaster.

The opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirms a lower court ruling that found oil giants, as co-owners of the fated Macondo Well, liable.

BP and Anadarko had sought to shift blame onto Transocean, which owned the riser. That equipment connects the well to the rig at the surface, and BP and Anadarko's argument was that the oil that ended up in the Gulf was released from the riser; therefore, they were not to blame.

But the appeals court ruling rejected that argument and found that there is "no dispute" that the oil was discharged from the well, which BP and Anandarko affirm they were owners of.

Circuit Judge Fortunato Benavides writes in the opinion:

...although the defendants argue that the blowout preventer should have engaged and prevented the progression of the blowout, the need for this intervention only underscores the extent to which the oil was already unconfined and flowing freely . Accordingly, we find that the well is a facility from which oil was discharged in violation of [the Clean Water Act.]

Benavides specifies section 311 of the Act, which prohibits the "discharge of oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States, adjoining shorelines, or into or upon the waters of the contiguous zone . . . in such quantities as may be harmful."

That section "leaves no room for civil - penalty defendants to shift liability via allegations of third - party fault," he writes.

According to reporting by Bloomberg, the ruling allows the U.S. to pursue up to $18 billion in fines from BP and up to $4.6 billion from Anadarko.

Though BP was temporarily banned by the federal government from contracts in the Gulf, the company now has 11 deepwater rigs — the most it's ever had there, according to reporting by Platts.

"Our business is back; it's strong and it's gaining momentum," John Minge, who is also BP America Chairman and CEO, declared last month.


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