A Louisiana parish that was among the most severely affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010 is suing British Petroleum (BP) for not paying on even one of its claims. Plaquemines Parish was the “epicenter” of the spill and its consequences, as well as the cleanup effort. According to Courthouse News, their complaint states, in part:
“The parish has suffered and will continue to suffer economic damages in the form of past and future lost revenues, lost business opportunities, diminution in asset values, loss and damage to wetlands, costs of coastal monitoring, increased costs of coastal projects due to delay and damage to wetlands, increased administrative medical and psychiatric costs, administrative costs for BP’s use of parish facilities, administrative costs of PPG in response to the disaster, wear and tear on parish infrastructure, costs to implement marking (sic) campaign to reverse stigma damages and investigative costs in preparing the presentment to BP and all other damages set forth and categorized in PPG’s October 30, 2012 presentment to BP.”
The damage from such an oil spill is far more than monetary, and it’s difficult to put a financial estimate on the actual damage caused. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ecological damage and necessary cleanup will continue for decades. Just as a comparison, as of 2010, Prince William Sound still had not fully recovered from the Exxon-Valdez oil spill that occurred 21 years before. Oil could still be seen on rocks in shallow waters. The fishing industry up there still hasn’t recovered. Beach sands still contain enough oil to be toxic.
And Exxon still has $92 million for cleanup that, as of one year ago, it still hadn’t paid.
BP goes to court on Monday on charges of gross negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to a Nov. 15, 2012 article in The New York Times, BP plans to plead guilty to the charges and agree to $4.5 billion in fines and penalties, however, depending on how the case goes, they could end up paying more than $20 billion. BP initially tried to hide the seriousness of the spill, especially how much oil was gushing from the damaged well.
However, BP has managed to get the Justice Department to eliminate monetary penalties for the barrels of oil it managed to recapture from the Gulf. Depending on how much oil was actually spilled, and how much they actually managed to clean up, that could reduce the fines they owe anywhere from $900 million to a whopping $3.5 billion, according to The Washington Post.
BP’s lawyer, Rupert Bondy also believes that the company’s willingness to pay valid claims for damage early on will help to convince the judge hearing the case to reduce the final penalties.
That will be of no comfort to those who’ve suffered the ongoing consequences of the spill. Plaquemines Parish and other communities are likely to see their businesses and their tourism suffer for decades, just like the communities along Prince William Sound have suffered for more than two decades.
Furthermore, despite Plaquemines Parish’s suit, BP has said in a statement that it’s already paid out $9 billion to the government, and to individuals and businesses affected by the spill. If the history of the Exxon-Valdez disaster is any indicator, it will be many decades before things finally do return to normal along the Gulf Coast.
The U.S. government continues to sell leases off the east and west coasts and around the Arctic to companies for exploration and drilling, and makes promises about how much oversight there will be, how low the risk of an actual spill is, how quickly any spills will be contained and cleaned up, and more. Given that these are promises the government has made before, and the fact that Exxon-Valdez and Deepwater Horizon happened anyway, these promises ring very hollow.
Plaquemines Parish would be well advised to continue as best it can with its own lawsuit against BP, and, if it can afford to, avoid settling out of court. Oil spills have such far-reaching and devastating effects that those caused by negligence demand extremely harsh punishment. Out-of-court settlements often result in much lower financial penalties for companies, and don’t give them much incentive to change their ways.