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The criminal charges may come first. Opting out might not be the best know, half a loaf and all that. BP owes Alaska $$$. Who dat doin' that deepwater drilling? It ain't the Saints... Petro compaines go all in on tar sands and shale oil.

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... and we don't know what it is...

With apologies to Bobby Zimmerman (that would be Mr. Bob Dylan) there may be something going on with the criminal part of the BP/Deepwater Horizon investigation that is delaying action on settlements, even without the interruption of the election.

Criminal probe of Gulf spill could be key to civil resolution.

Final settlements for plaintiffs affected by the explosion and gusher have been on hold for a while now, and there is speculation that Federal prosecutors are getting things lined up to go after criminal charges before tackling civil action. I am definitely not a lawyer but... on the other side of the coin - and the operative word there is indeed "coin" - that may also be what BP,, would prefer, because the lack of "criminal" negligence would strongly affect the amount in damages for which they could be responsible.

"€œWe do need clarity of the criminal prosecution before there will be any civil settlement,€ said University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann, a former federal prosecutor who is following the spill litigation closely but isn'€™t directly involved.

Lawyers for several possible individual defendants say they'€™ve had no recent contact from government investigators. BP continues to have discussions with the Justice Department about settling expected fines and penalties, but its lawyers are also preparing for a drawn-out court fight over how much oil spilled, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.

BP, Halliburton, and Transocean have been going after each other in suits and countersuits, but their spokespersons say they have had no recent contact with DoJ officials, and that "rumors" continue to surface.
The Washington-based official who has been leading the criminal probe, John Buretta, set up shop in New Orleans after the accident, but Justice Department spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael declined to say if he'€™s still there. Spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle did say Buretta is still in charge.

Attorneys involved in the case don'€™t expect the government to wrap up the probe without taking further action. To date, only a low-level former engineer for BP has been charged, and that charge involves actions after the disaster.

€œI'€™ve told them in the past to just call me when it'€™s time to go to court,€ said Pat Fanning, an attorney for James Harrell, a Transocean employee who was the offshore installation manager on the Deepwater Horizon. "€œI was told in the first of June by the prosecutors that an indictment would be presented to a grand jury in a matter of two or three weeks. So, while the rumor mill is interesting, it also is very unreliable."€

But Uhlmann says the government is merely being methodical.
"€œThe department appears to be focusing more on ancillary questions such as whether BP and the other companies involved were dealing honestly with regulators both before the spill and during efforts to contain the spill,"€ Uhlmann said. "€œTo be fair, it does take longer to build a case that'€™s focused on obstruction of justice, false statements and concealments."€

Among the possibilities: the Justice Department could push for a global settlement of civil and criminal penalties, try to reach separate agreements with the various companies or, on the criminal side, charge first and resolve later.

"€œThey are going for the brass ring, trying to make this a more difficult case about lying,"€ Uhlmann said.

In the meantime, I think I'll just hide out here in the weeds and wait to see what happens...

And being in the group of plaintiffs considering opting out of the settlement in order to pursue their personal case may run the risk of getting nothing.

Opting out has its risks in BP case.

The three-year statute of limitations on filing a claim against BP and the other companies connected to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and gusher is running out. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier initially approved the $7.8 billion deal in May, but called the "fairness hearing" last Thursday to weigh objections from about 13,000 claimants challenging the settlement to resolve some of BP's liability for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Joe Rice, an attorney in the negotiations process of the settlement, says that attorneys and plaintiffs who opt out in hopes of a separate deal may do it at their own risk.

"€œI imagine that a lawyer thinks that if he opts out, he will file an appeal and come up with some way to resolve those claims with BP outside the class in some aggregate fashion,"€ Rice told the Houston Chronicle. "€œI don'€™t think BP has any intention of doing that at the current time.€"

With the three-year statute of limitations running out in April, claimants who opt not to be part of the settlement must file their claims by Jan. 24 so that BP will have the legally required 90 days to respond.

"€œIf you don'€™t make a presentment by Jan. 24, you start facing a risk that the statute of limitations could run before you have a chance to legally pursue your claim," Rice said.

Rice also points out that opting out of the class action makes it harder to pursue a claim, because the requirements are much more stringent, and the courts may not approve as many cases to go to trial.
"€œThese lawyers had names of folks that they talked to sometime in the process, and they didn’t even have a valid address for them, so they put them on the form without them,"€ said Rice, who is also part of a court-appointed steering committee representing the 79,000 plaintiffs already party to the deal.
In the hearing, claims administrator Patrick Juneau estimated that about half of the 25,000 opt-out claims would meet the court requirements.

Judge Barbier, who is overseeing the mass litigation, has not given a time frame for deciding who to let out of the settlement.

Barbier did not issue a final ruling at Thursday's hearing in a New Orleans court, but he appears poised to grant final approval to the deal in the coming days, legal experts said.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the forest for the trees," Barbier said at the end of the hearing, saying that some objections "were not frankly made in good faith and bordered on being frivolous."

Attorney Brent Coon, who filed more than 10,000 opt-out claims, said the judge will first have to decide which clients "€œjumped through all the hoops"€ and which ones did not.
"€œIf he doesn'€™t extend opt-out criteria, I'€™m appealing 5,000 cases on the difficulties of how you get out of this case,"€ Coon said.
From what one of the BP attorneys has said, that company plans - as one might expect - to make things extremely difficult for anyone who opts out. BP attorney Rick Godfrey says they intend to set a very high bar for any single or small group of plaintiffs to prove that their losses stemmed from the spill.
"€œFor those who opt out,"€ Godfrey said, "€œwe will put them to the proof."€
Almost sounds like a threat, doesn't it?

If you're willing to accept that proverbial half a loaf rather than nothing at all, Gulf Coast residents who want to participate in the current settlement and have not signed up yet are being given an extra year to file a claim.

Rice also said the list of participants could grow dramatically as more businesses indirectly connected to the tourism industry realize they are eligible to file.

"€œIt is just up to people to exercise that right,"€ Rice said. "€œBP will pay it if they come. We have built a claimant-friendly, transparent, open-ended claims process for the people on the Gulf Coast. All we need now is for them to come forward and get their claim."€

Okay. Stay tuned, because things happening at the DoJ completely unconnected with the spill may drag out the litigation even farther...

How long can you tread water?

And in Alaska (those nasty socialists!) BP is ordered to fork over a nice chunk of change to that state for lost production revenue due to BP's spillage and cleanup in 2006...

BP ordered to pay Alaska $255M for lost oil production stemming from 2006 North Slope spills.

A subsidiary of BP PLC has been ordered to pay the state of Alaska $255 million for royalties the state lost because of production shutdowns after two North Slope oil spills in 2006 and a subsequent pipeline replacement project.

A three-member arbitration panel unanimously ordered BP (Exploration) Alaska Inc. to pay the state $245 million, plus another $10 million in fines, by Dec. 3. The panel heard the case over four weeks last May and June in Anchorage, and reached its decision Oct. 31, the state said in a release Thursday announcing the award.

The amount of the settlement cannot be appealed.

"€œWe'€™re absolutely pleased with the result,"€ Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said.

He described it as "€œa win for all Alaskans, and we look forward to moving forward."

"Look forward to moving forward." He really has a way with words, does he not?

Corrosion on North Slope pipelines was determined to be the problem causing the leaks. Both breaks were found to be BP's fault for not regularly cleaning and inspecting the lines, as required by law. BP responded by replacing approximately sixteen miles of pipeline. BP had argues that production was not lost, only delayed, and they should not have to pay anything. The state of Alaska and BP both agreed to arbitration in the claims process to avoid legal costs.

Blackstone, LLOG agree on $1.2 billion Gulf of Mexico oil deal.

Blackstone Group LP, a New York- based private equity firm, started a partnership with LLOG Exploration Co., based in Covington, LA, to invest more than $1.2 billion in offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico. LLOG said it’s one of the largest private operators in the Gulf, and claims an exploration success rate of 70 percent.

"€œWith Blackstone'€™s team, extensive capital resources, oil and gas expertise and industry resources, we will be able to take our business activity levels and assets to the next level,"€ said Scott Gutterman, chief executive officer of LLOG.

Production from LLOG'€™s Who Dat discovery, which holds as much as 300 million barrels of oil equivalent, is excluded from the partnership. LLOG said it started production from the field last year.

I have never heard of LLOG. Small operators can be good in some ways (the big guys can write off accidents more easily - it's just the cost of doing "bidness") but the little guys can be as dangerous.

In a piece in the New York Times from May of 2010, there seems to be little difference between the big guys and the little guys in actual safety violations, LLOG included...

From the article ("last year" would be 2009):

Last year, there were eight injuries at BP offshore work sites, according to Interior records. Chevron had nine; Exxon Mobil had three; ATP had four and Murphy Exploration & Production Co. had nine. Three companies were cited for "loss of well control," including Stone Energy Corp., Murphy and LLOG Exploration Offshore Inc., but BP was not. BP had four fires, while Chevron had 15, Exxon had 14 and Kerr-McGee had two.
Okay, guys...drill deep. We'll wait to see if you can control your wells.

Damn, I hate this.

This is not good...

A prediction: Shale oil plays will grow for decades.

The head of an energy-focused investment bank predicts opportunities will grow for decades in unconventional shale plays, with the United States on track to potentially become the world’s top oil producer by 2035.

But Bobby Tudor, CEO of Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. was less optimistic about short-term natural gas prices when he spoke to reporters at a media tour hosted by BHP Billiton Petroleum last week.

“The gas prices we are at today are not sustainable,” Tudor said.

Big companies, including ExxonMobil and BHP Billiton, can continue to produce natural gas because they believe prices will eventually go back up and can afford to wait, he said. But smaller companies are leaving the business, often shifting to oil production.

BHP Billiton entered the U.S. shale fields last year with the $12.1 billion acquisition of Petrohawk Energy and remains in the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas and the Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Louisiana. But it has shifted emphasis to the Eagle Ford Shale, which produces natural gas liquids and oil, and the oil-rich Permian Basin.

Warning!: Opinion follows...

Shale oil and gas is the nastiest, most expensive crap that can be produced in the petroleum world. (Confession: I, at an earlier point in my life in geology considered specializing in coal petrology/kerogen marls/Green River shale, etc., when that was thought of as the newest, best, most lucrative place to be. I came to my senses.) If you think that blowing off the tops of mountains for coal is destructive, just check out shale/tar sands production. Huge areas of Alberta will not be habitable for a hundred years, if then... Merely building the Keystone pipeline is small potatoes compared to what has to happen to get the stuff to fill it. This is the last gasp for petroleum companies to wrench out product and sell it, before there is nothing left. They have no qualms whatsoever about destroying North America (the Bakken Shale on the US/Canada border is where BP is moving much of its production resources, and selling off their Texas refineries) to get as much cash as they can, as quickly as they can. And if you believe the American Petroleum Institute commercials that run everywhere about "American fuel sources", then you are clueless. "American" petroleum is not owned by the US...and by the US, I mean us - we the people. "We" won't get it. It is sold on the global market by the owners (and that's not US) to the highest bidder. That's why Keystone is going to the Texas coast...the operative word there is "coast" as in "tankers" to take the product somewhere else... And if we're down to shale oil and tar sands to supply the demand for fuel, that means fossil fuel is likely almost all gone. And as a matter of fact, if we continue down this road, all of us may be "almost all gone"...

The petroleum producers should all go do something biologically impossible, preferably sideways, and with a rusty chainsaw...

/rant off.

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