Looking Back at The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Although it’s been seven years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the environmental and human devastation may linger for generations. On April 20, 2010, the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico faltered, exploded and burned into the sea off the coast of Louisiana, dumping nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil. It topped a heartbreaking history of missteps that made tragedies such as the Exxon Valdez oil tanker pale in comparison. For families who lost loved ones and those whose health was damaged, it’s important to enlist the help of an experienced Jones Act attorney.
The offshore drilling rig was owned by Transocean and leased by BP oil. A natural gas explosion compromised the core and shot up into the platform causing a massive burn. Significant oil leakage didn’t actually occur for two days. Fully engulfed in fire, the rig finally collapsed on April 22 and that ruptured a riser used to discharge underground mud, opening the crude floodgates.
An estimated 60,000 barrels per day contaminated the Gulf of Mexico until it was finally capped in mid-July. It was like watching a horrific car wreck, 24 hours a day for nearly three months. Unfortunately, capping the well was only the first step in halting a calamity that continues to do harm to this very day.
While ships and cleanup technologies were brought to bear as quickly as possible, the uncaptured oil created a visible slick stretching over a thousand square miles. And, more than 1,000 miles of coastline suffered tremendous pollution. As oil and tar balls hit the shore, beaches, marshes and brackish waterways had to be cleaned manually as birds, fish, shellfish and plant life withered and died. The harm caused by crude that settled on the ocean floor may never be completely quantified. But what may have done an equal amount of injury were the methods used to “clean up” the spill.
Efforts to corral and siphon the massive oil slick were only modestly effective in handling the spread. Much of it was set ablaze and huge plumes of black smoke rose into the air, damaging the lungs of emergency workers and seamen. Compounding the noxious burns was the fact that dispersants were dropped on uncontained slicks. At the time, the theory was that these substances would help break down the oil so that naturally occurring bacteria could metabolize it. Sadly, that strategy added to a wealth of human suffering over the long haul.
Impact on Seamen
It’s impossible to place a monetary value on the damage to your health or the loss of a loved one. Families such as the 11 brave workers killed during the Deepwater Horizon explosion and other offshore accidents are eligible to seek damages under the Jones Act. The 17 who suffered a debilitating offshore injury can seek compensation through what longshoremen lawyers more specifically call “Jones Act maintenance and cure.” That basically means forcing the insurance company to pay lost wages and medical bills to people like the injured crew of Deepwater Horizon. Over the years, BP oil and others have been — to some degree — held accountable and have been required to put more than $7.8 billion into settlement resources for people harmed by the calamity. Tragically, the oil burns and chemicals also inflicted harm on the men and women who worked tirelessly to protect the environment and people living along the coastline.
The decision to use Corexit as a dispersant may have created an unforeseen harm to the coastal population. According to the Center for Disease Control, Corexit can cause chemically-induced pneumonitis, skin and nervous system problems that include depression, vomiting, brain impairment, as well as liver and kidney damage. People living along the Gulf coast have experienced high rates of these and other health problems potentially linked to the 1.8 million gallons of the dangerous chemical. The Corexit cleanup tactic was basically a carpet bombing of the waters that families and their children swim in and the air they breathe every day. The move to cure the oil slicks can only be likened to the effect spraying Agent Orange on American soldiers had during the Vietnam War.
For many people, the Deepwater Horizon incident is not an environmental disaster that was cleaned up seven years ago. The harm done to the health and wellbeing of seamen and the civilian population may linger for lifetimes in some cases. If you or a loved one has suffered due to the Deepwater Horizon incident or the pollutants used in the cleanup, call us for a consultation.
BP Requests Review of Judge’s Grossly Negligent Ruling
In September, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP was grossly negligent in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil giant has filed a request in Louisiana court to have the ruling reviewed.
According to the motion filed by BP, the grossly negligent ruling was based on evidence regarding weaknesses in the Macondo well’s casing that contributed to the blowout, which the judge agreed to exclude during trial.
The motion asks for an amended ruling or to have a new trial granted.
The grossly negligent ruling paves the way for a significant increase in the Clean Water Act penalties and fees that BP can be charged with. Although the oil company had previously agreed to $4 billion in fines and penalties related to the disaster, the September ruling could increase the company’s liability by up to $18 billion.
The offshore injury attorneys at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris have helped victims of many major maritime disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Debris Cleared From Blown Out Wellhead Off Louisiana Coast
Workers have removed the debris from the wellhead of a gas well that blew out July 23 and spawned a fire off the coast of Louisiana last month.
A relief well was also being drilled; once the relief well intercepts the main well, drilling mud and cement will be pumped in.
According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a plan was approved to send a camera down the wellbore as part of the attempts to seal the well more permanently.
The natural gas fire burned for more than a day before being extinguished. No one was injured when the well, owned by Walter Oil & Gas Corp., blew out. The flow of oil was stopped as sand and debris clogged the well.
The maritime lawyers at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris help workers injured while working on drilling rigs.
Oil Exec Apologizes For Blaming Filipino Workers In Louisiana Blast
Black Elk Energy executive John Hoffman apologized last month for blaming Filipino workers in an November explosion on an offshore oil platform. Three workers died in the accident, which occurred off the coast of Louisiana.
The fire began on a rig that was owned by Houston-based energy company, Black Elk Energy. Hoffman at the time attributed the accident to worker error. The apology was conveyed through Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr.
The explosion happened in the same week that BP settled all criminal charges arising out of the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has agreed to pay $4 billion to settle all charges arising out of the explosion, which killed 11 workers. The offshore BP explosion triggered a massive environmental spill, believed to be the largest maritime disaster in history.
The offshore injury lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris represent offshore oil rig and platform workers who have been injured in accidents in the Gulf of Mexico. If you have been injured in an offshore accident, consult an experienced maritime lawyer at our firm.
Bill Would Mandate Rescue Vessels Stationed Within 3 Miles of Rigs Offshore
A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsored by Louisiana Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, would mandate that rescue vessels be stationed within three nautical miles of offshore drilling rigs.
The measure is an attempt to solve safety problems facing the offshore oil and gas industry, according to Rep. Landry. Safety concerns have increased since the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.
A supply boat that was nearby at the time of the explosion helped rescue more than 100 workers; if the boat had not been so close, many more might have died on the rig in the blast.
The offshore oil and gas drilling industry is critical of the proposal, saying it will increase operating costs. Industry officials also say the measure is unnecessary because the U.S. Coast Guard already as the ability to launch rescue operations in the event of a tragedy, including helicopter search and rescue teams combing the water within a few hours of an incident.
The bill would require rescue boats to be stationed no more than 3 nautical miles away from offshore oil and gas drilling rigs while the rig is engaging in any critical activities, such as drilling, abandonment, etc. For less critical operations, the vessel can be within 12 nautical miles.
The maritime attorneys at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer and Harris represent workers injured in offshore oil rig accidents.
BP Can Be Sued For Punitive Damages in Rig Explosion
A judge has ruled that BP can be sued for punitive damages in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in April 2010, handing a big win to plaintiffs who sustained losses in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Judge Carl Barbier ruled that, under maritime law, plaintiffs are allowed to make a claim for punitive damages. Plaintiffs include individuals, companies and businesses that suffered losses resulting from the explosion and subsequent oil spill.
The explosion of the Transocean-owned, BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 rig workers and injured dozens. The resulting leak from the Macondo oil well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, destroyed marine life and adversely affected local economies all along the Gulf.
BP, Transocean and other defendants have said punitive damages are not applicable because of the US Oil Pollution Act, which prohibits plaintiffs from suing for punitive damages.
Judge Barbier also dismissed all claims filed under state laws, ruling those claims must be filed under maritime law to proceed. He also dismissed negligence claims brought against two minority owners of the Macondo well, Anadarko and Mitsui.
The judge also has allowed companies to proceed with claims of lost revenue due to the federal moratorium on deep water drilling after the rig explosion and oil spill. Boat owners who have filed claims after their vessels were damaged during cleanup efforts also can take their claims to court, the judge has ruled.
The lawsuits name BP, Transocean, Cameron International Corp. and Halliburton Co., which was responsible for cement jobs on the oil rig.
The Jones Act lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris represent injured offshore workers and families of offshore workers killed in accidents. SMSH is currently representing numerous individuals injured in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
Coast Guard Lays Oil Rig Explosion Blame Squarely at Transocean’s Feet
Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion last year, Transocean has tried to blame other companies involved in drilling operations, including BP and Halliburton, for the tragedy. To maritime lawyers familiar with the company’s tactics, this was not exactly unexpected. However, the Coast Guard has just issued its report into the explosion, and has blamed Transocean for the disaster.
According to the Coast Guard report, Transocean’s poor safety culture and its failure to invest in emergency training and equipment maintenance were prime factors in the explosion. The report also makes mention of the procedures followed by some of the crew members on the rig, such as failing to notify other workers about the potential emergency situation after the explosion, as factors in the disaster.
According to the report, electrical equipment on the rig that could have possibly limited the extent of the explosion, was poorly maintained. Vital gas alarms and automatic shutdown mechanisms that would have alerted the crew to the blast were bypassed. Besides, the crew members had not received adequate training about how to respond in case of an emergency like this. The Coast Guard report says that Transocean had a shoddy safety culture that failed to prepare workers for a disaster of this magnitude.
The report also blames poor oversight by the Deepwater Horizon’s flag state, the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Transocean registered the Deepwater Horizon in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 2005. According to the Coast Guard report, the Marshall Islands failed to inspect the rig properly, and failed to ensure that its crew training, equipment maintenance and emergency response systems were in order.
Emotional Scars from BP Offshore Explosion Stronger Than Physical Scars
The long term health risks from the BP oil rig explosion and resulting spill last year are more likely to be emotional in nature than physical. According to the New York Times, residents along the Gulf Coast are more likely to be troubled by mental and emotional issues in the future.
The New York Times is quoting doctors who have reviewed patients along the Gulf Coast. The review has published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and has included the effects of the use of chemicals that were used to disperse the oil. However, the results of the analysis may not be completely accurate due to the lack of tangible studies into the oil spill. For instance, the federal administration has failed to conduct any intensified studies into the effects of the spill along the Gulf Coast. This is why doctors and other experts, who have studied these health issues, have little official data to work with.
While physical complaints like headaches, nausea and respiratory problems continue to exist, doctors and maritime lawyers are more concerned about the long-term emotional effects from the spill. In fact, doctors believe that some of these physical symptoms that people are suffering from, like headaches and nausea, are also symptoms of stress.
In order to really understand the effects of the spill, the federal government needs to study the disaster carefully, especially the effect on states that already have the most significant health problems in the country. For instance, Louisiana already has high rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. We need a study to understand how the oil spill has affected these rates.
BP Panel Says More Work Needed to Prevent Future Offshore Accidents
A presidential panel into the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion hasrecommended that the offshore industry, Congress and the Obama administration take even more steps to enhance offshore safety, and prevent other disasters of the magnitude of the Gulf of Mexico explosion.
Last week, an independent panel presented recommendations to the federal administration. Maritime attorneys have been speculating for a while about the possible nature of the recommendations. Ultimately, when the report was presented to the Obama administration, there were no real surprises.
Broadly, the commission is recommending an increased budget for the federal agency that is now in charge of offshore safety, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It is also recommending more training for agency inspectors. Besides, the commission also made recommendations that are very dear to maritime lawyers. It called for an increase in the liability cap that offshore companies are exposed to in the event of a disaster. This raising of the liability cap is something that we have supported strongly. When companies who profit to the tune of billions of dollars from offshore drilling activities are involved in an accident, it is only fair that they be held liable for damages that result. For too long, the offshore industry has had it both ways, and that must end now.
Besides, the commission also recommends setting aside approximately 80% of the fines and penalties that will be collected from BP, to environmental restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. The panel is also calling for a greater scientific basis for decisions about where to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. More importance should be given to scientific research while making these decisions.
Deepwater Horizon Explosion Caused Because of Widespread Failures
As maritime lawyers, it was heartbreaking for us to read about the seemingly endless failures on the Deepwater Horizon, in the hours leading up to the fatal rig explosion in April. The New York Times has analyzed interviews with survivors of the explosion, to come up with a gripping account of all the things that went wrong on that fateful night.
Key personnel on the rig delayed making important, emergency decisions, with devastating consequences. Besides, there was also a lack of preparedness for an event of this magnitude. Everybody on the Deepwater Horizon was prepared for smaller, adverse events. Nobody was prepared for a massive well blowout that was accompanied almost immediately by severe explosions and dozens of fires all over the rig. In short, owners and operators of the rig simply failed to put into place an emergency mechanism that would be triggered as soon as an event like this occurred.
People on the rig had only nine minutes from the time the drilling mud began to gush out of the well until the first explosion.
To say that the Deepwater Horizon’s emergency systems were complicated to operate is an understatement. One emergency alarm on the rig involved a total of 30 buttons.
It’s a gripping account of one of the most tragic days in maritime history. This holiday season, the maritime attorneys at SMSH take a moment to remember the 11 men who died on April 20, 2011.