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British petroleum (BP) was founded may 1908 and has since
then become a leader in today’s oil and gas markets. As of 2012 it ranked 6th
amongst all other competitors and has kept that ranking through until today
(PFC Energy, 2012). As well as oil and gas the company also helps to provide
and distribute other renewable sources of energy across a total of 72
countries. However, this report aims to look at one of the company’s largest
disasters which happened in the Gulf of Mexico when a disaster on a mining rig
ran by Transocean led to one of the largest marine oil spills of our time. I
hope to cover not only the crimes committed by such a large company in the wake
of this disaster but the litigation that followed. The following is a timeline
of the events that eventually lead to the sinking of Deepwater Horizon: It all
began on April the 1st, when an employee named Marvin Volek showed
concerns about the use of cement in the oil well and believed that what they
were doing was not up to the high standard it should have been (Urbina, 2010).
Next on April the 6th BP were given the go ahead and granted
permission to begin mining. However, with this permission came a warning of gas
in the well as well as the possibility of flowing water. This was ignored and
BP’s plans for the boring of the well went ahead as originally planned (Wald,
2010). By April the 9th BP’s well borer had reached the final stages
of drilling into the oceans floor however it is decided that at this depth the
well should have a much stronger casing. Casing helps stabilise the structure
of the well and helps prevent collapse or obstruction of the drill. This being
said BP went ahead and decided to use a more basic casing liner as it would not
only save them time but money. April 14th, employee Brian Morel said
in an email that he felt this mining operation so far had been a mess leaving
other employees seemingly in a state of disarray. April 15th, “Centralizers. When the final string of
casing was installed, one key challenge was making sure the casing ran down the
centre of the well bore. As the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended
practices explain, if the casing is not centred, “it is difficult, if not
impossible, to displace mud effectively from the narrow side of the
annulus,” resulting in a faiku cement job. Halliburton, the
contractor hired by BP to cement the well, warned BP that the well could have a
“SEVERE gas flow problem” if BP lowered the final string of casing
with only six centralizers instead of the 21 recommended by Halliburton. BP
rejected Halliburton’s advice to use additional centralizers. In an e-mail
on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: “it will
take 10 hours to install them. … I do not like this.” Later that day,
another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient
centralizers but commented: “who cares, it’s done, end of story, will
probably be fine.”” (The Hill, 2010). Edging ever closer to
the day of disaster on the 18th of April reports were filed that
there was an issue within the well and that a team should be brought in to test
the cement had bound correctly, this is required by law. April the 20th
finally came around and although it was strongly recommended that BP conduct a
thorough check on the cementing of the well, again they chose to cut corners
and instead cancelled the scheduled test in an effort to cut corners and save
yet more money on an already expensive venture. At this point the drilling rig
was already a massive 43 days behind and had already cost BP an extra $21
million (Urbina, 2010). “At 9:49 pm that same day Andrea
Fleytas had been monitoring the dynamic positioning system on the bridge of the
Horizon when she felt a jolt. Before she could make sense of it – a rig shaking
shock that came out of nowhere – magenta warnings began flashing on her screen.
Magenta meant the most dangerous level of combustible gas intrusion.” (Konrad
and Shroder, 2011). By 9:56pm the oil rig being used by the company
British Petroleum became engulfed in flames following an explosion created by
natural gas as the rig drilled into the sea bed for crude oil (Radio, 2018). As
the explosion took place and flames began to burn though the drilling rig there
were a total of 126 members on board, most were rescued by the local coast
guards but unfortunately 11 bodies were never recovered. Over the next two days
the rig continued to burn and eventually sank on the 22nd of April
(The Independent, 2010). It was only after the Deepwater horizon had sunk that
the true extent of the issue could be seen as oil began to gather around the
area which was once home to the drilling  
 rig. Following the incident
thousands of gallons of crude oil began continued to spill from within the well
that had been bored into the ocean floor. Over the course of the next few days
it was estimated that more than 200 million gallons of oil left the well after
it had been opened which led to this disaster being declared as the largest oil
spill in unites states history (, N.D.), it was eventually
stopped 87 days after the initial spill in July 2010. The clean up began almost
immediately following the spillage with up to 47,000 people and 7,000 ships spending
thousands of hours skimming the ocean to collect oil from its surface as well
as inducing controlled burning of the spilled pollutant and clearing up what
had washed up on the coastline (Anon, 2010). Although everything was done to
try and stop the oil from spreading it is estimated that the oil impacted an
area between 2,500 and 68,000 square miles (, 2010). As well as
the most obvious impact on the water it also had a detrimental impact on the
wildlife. Wherever the oil spread wildlife began to die, birds became covered
in crude oil making them unable to fly and eventually causing them to die. In
an interview with Thomas Shirley, a marine biologist from the university of
Texas he said that “Despite decades of intensive oil
drilling, the inventory showed that the Gulf of Mexico still harboured 15,700
species of sea life. In the area immediately surrounding the spill, Shirley and
his fellow scientists tallied 8,332 species of plants and animals, including
more than 1,200 fish (such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna), more than 1,500 crustaceans
(including the blue crab), and 29 marine mammals (including bottlenose
dolphins)” (, 2010). He goes on to say that although the immediate
effects can no longer be seen on the surface the consequences of this spillage
will be felt for many years to come as the ecosystem struggles to recover and
re-stabalise itself.


As can be imagined the backlash that
followed this great spill was immense with people all over the world in uproar
over how this could have possibly happened in the first place. But the one
thing people seemed to want more than reason as to why it happened was someone
to blame and for that person to pay for the damage they had caused. From the
moment the spill began prosecutors were already trying to decide who was at
fault and how that could be proved in a court of law. Many sources pointed
towards negligence being the source of the disaster however, “Some may question whether
criminal prosecution is appropriate based on the Gulf tragedy. Soon after the
spill began, Texas Governor Rick Perry called the explosion “an act of God.”
Tea Party activist and U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul argued that we should
avoid the blame game in the Gulf because “accidents happen.”” (, 2010). As can be imagined the main focus of
prosecutors were crimes committed under environmental law such as the migratory
bird act 1918 and the clean water act 1972.

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The migratory bird act was brought in
to protect birds that migrate between the United States and Great Britain and
covered not only the bird itself but its feathers, eggs and even their nests. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits
for otherwise prohibited activities under the act. These include permits for
taxidermy, falconry, propagation, scientific and educational use, and
depredation, an example of the latter being the killing of geese near an
airport, where they pose a danger to aircraft.” (, 2017). Unfortunately, the real extent of the damage on the birds
following the spill is unknown as most of the research that does exist on the
matter is not available to the public and has been retained by the US
government to be released at a later date following the completion on any legal
action being taken against BP. In a study conducted by J. Christopher Haney,
Harold Geiger and Jeffery Short they estimated that anywhere up to 800,000
birds died as a direct result from the spill (Audubon, 2014). As it stands the
current fine for breaching the migratory bird act is $15,000 and up to six
months in jail and to put that in perspective if the maximum fine were to be
paid per bird it would total 12 billion dollars alone and would come with a
jail sentence so ridiculous it isn’t even worth contemplating. With that in
mind after BP pleaded guilty to damages to wildlife under this act they only
paid $4 billion in damages which was then dedicated to helping restore the
heavily damaged ecosystem in an attempt to return it to its former glory (US
EPA, 2013).                                           – add more

on from the migratory bird act we have the clean water act of 1972. The clean
water act was originally created to help protect the waters of the United
States. It aimed to put restrictions on companies stopping them from dumping
waste into rivers whether intentionally or unintentionally. It also made it
possible to set a standard that all water should adhere to before it is deemed
polluted and gave birth to a new set of grants to help in providing sewage
treatment plants (US EPA, 2017). For first time offenders the sentence carries
a minimum fine of 2,500 dollars and a maximum of 25,000 dollars per day that
the pollutant continues to affect the water source. As well as this the
offender can receive up to a year in jail as well as a much larger 50,000 dollars
per day fine if they have been convicted previously. However, if the water
source is intentionally being polluted regardless of knowing the risk of their
actions the accused can receive a fine up to $1,000,000 dollars and up to
fifteen years imprisonment (, 2018). The case that breached the
clean water act was brought before a united states district judge by the name of
Carl Barbier and it was his belief that the disaster was a direct result of
BP’s gross negligence. This withheld in court and therefore now threatened BP
with a fine that could see them paying out a further 18 billion dollars for
their part in the oil spill. In the business of oil, it is normal that the
products volume is measured in barrels and therefore when it comes to setting
the fine the amount is calculated per barrel. Now the judge can force the
accused to pay up to 4,300 dollars per barrel but they are able to lower this
amount at their own discretion if they so wish (New Orleans Sun, 2014). After
reading the evidence the judge also ruled that spill total amounted to 4.2
million barrels which of course BP disputed in court suggesting the amount was
in fact much smaller and only totalled a mere 2.5 million barrels, almost half
of that suggested originally. With this in mind BP did seek to clear up the
mess they had created but just like before with their estimates of oil spilt
they weren’t exactly truthful. BP had hired its own team of scientists to begin
collecting data that would show the world their clean-up efforts were being successful.
Due to the fact that BP now ‘owned’ this important data it was free to only
release what it believed worked in their favour and could simply bury anything
that suggested otherwise (Bradshaw, 2012).


we have the 11 counts of manslaughter. In the wake of the disaster almost every
crew member had been accounted for, all but 11 crewmembers made it off the rig
without being significantly hurt. Manslaughter usually carries a sentence of
anywhere between Unfortunately, the other 11 were never found and as this was a
direct result of the explosion BP now began facing a suit for involuntary
manslaughter. It was decided that two men who had been working on the rig in
charge of overseeing the drilling operation should be held accountable for the
11 deaths caused in 2010. Both Robert Kaluza and Donald Virdrine were both
accused of negligence for choosing to cut important corners when it came to
testing the safety and integrity of the well, as well as that they also failed
to pass on the relevant information to their superiors regarding the results
they actually did receive (, 2012). Of all the incidents that occurred
either during or following the incident this was the only one that came with a
threat of jail time. That being said fortunately for the defendants the
punishment for involuntary manslaughter is considerably lighter than other
forms of murder with a minimum sentence of only 12 months (Findlaw, n,d). At
this time the case for these two members is still being fought in court with no
final decision having been made so far. As well as the two workers BP as a
company were also brought forward on the 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter
which they pleaded guilty to. “As part of BP’s guilty plea, it will retain a monitor
for four years, tasked with overseeing safety, risk management and equipment
maintenance in relation to deepwater drilling in the Gulf, as well as an
independent auditor, who will conduct annual reviews to ensure compliance. The
company will also hire an ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct.” (SHP – Health and Safety News,
Legislation, PPE, CPD and Resources, 2012).

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