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Judgement Day for BP. Motion to extend deadline for seafood industry settlement rejected. TransCanada makes a boo-boo.

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Well, that was quick...

Judge okays $4 billion BP criminal settlement.

A federal judge on Tuesday approved an agreement for BP PLC to plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges and pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties for the company's role in the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Before she ruled, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance heard testimony from relatives of 11 workers who died when BP's blown-out Macondo well triggered an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and started the spill.

Vance said the plea deal was "just punishment" considering the risks of litigation for BP and the alternatives to the settlement. She told victims' relatives who were in court that she read their "truly gut-wrenching" written statements and factored their words into her decision.

"I've heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered," she said.

She said she also believes BP executives should have personally apologized to family members.

"I think BP should have done that out of basic humanity," she said.

The deal doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more in penalties for environmental damage.

Background follows in next story...

In a Federal courtroom in New Orleans today, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance has said she will announce her decision on whether she will accept or reject a criminal plea deal that BP reached with the Justice Department over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil spill.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 10AM, and extra room has been provided for the overflow crowd.

It’s expected to be a crowded and emotional hearing. The judge has arranged for an overflow courtroom to be available that will carry an audio feed of the proceedings from the main courtroom.

BP has agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including manslaughter and obstruction of Congress, and pay a record $4 billion criminal penalty. The deal also calls for five years of probation and independent monitoring.

If Vance accepts the deal, she will impose the agreed sentence. If she rejects it, she will allow BP to withdraw its guilty plea and go to trial. BP officials have not disclosed who will formally enter the guilty plea for the company — a corporate officer or one of its lawyers.

In a joint memo filed by BP and the Department of Justice, both entities maintain the plea deal is both "fair and appropriate".
The memo says the core message of the plea deal is that “criminal misconduct will have enormous ramifications — financial, legal, reputational, and other — for any company and any individual who fails to abide by the standards of care when drilling in U.S. waters or on the U.S. outer continental shelf.”

The memo asks U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance to approve BP’s agreement to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges, including manslaughter and obstruction of Congress, and the negotiated settlement it reached with the Justice Department. Vance will make her decision at a hearing Jan. 29.

Vance has received thirty statements from victims of the accident and their families, and those statements call for more stringent measures to be enforced on the company.
In the joint motion defending the plea agreement filed two weeks ago, BP and the Justice Department argued that the $4 billion in criminal penalties should be placed in the context of other consequences involving BP and its employees, including:

    The indictment of two BP rig supervisors, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, for their role in the blowout and spill.

    The indictment of BP executive David Rainey on charges of lying to Congress on behalf of the company. As part of the agreement, BP also would plead guilty to a single count of intentionally misleading Congress through Rainey's testimony that only 5,000 barrels of oil per day were flowing from the well before it was capped.

    The $24.2 billion in accident and spill-related expenditures that BP has already paid out through the third quarter of 2012, with the expectation that that number will eventually reach $42 billion, including the criminal fines. That expense is in part covered by $20 billion the company placed in a trust account soon after the spill.

    A separate $525 million settlement of civil claims with the Securities and Exchange Commission, filed at the same time as the plea agreement, concerning BP's filing of three reports containing incorrect flow rate estimates during the uncontrolled release of oil and gas.

    The company's remaining liability to be determined in the civil trial that will include civil Clean Water Act fines that could total between $5 billion and $21 billion, and potentially billions more to pay for environmental and economic projects required under the Oil Pollution Act's Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.

BP also is subject to "collateral consequences," the document said, including being blocked from government supply contracts, which already has occurred for some subsidiaries in the aftermath of the plea announcement.


Federal judge rejects motion to extend deadline for BP oil spill seafood settlement.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the Gulf gusher litigation, rejected a motion by Texas attorney Brett Coon, who represents thousands of claimants in the class-action settlement, which sought to extend the deadline for fishing vessel owners and others to join in the $2.3 billion lawsuit.

Coon filed a motion seeking to push back the deadline for seafood-related losses to be filed until April 22, contending that the quick turnaround since the deal was approved was an issue. In the filing, Coon said additional time was necessary because the deal is "massive, extraordinarily complicated, and confusing to read and interpret."

Barbier maintained that the time allotted was sufficient for all who wanted to be able to join in the class-action settlement, and that the deadline had been known since May of 2012.

In the judge's order rejecting the effort, Barbier said that "for months, it has been well publicized that seafood claims would be due" within 30 days of the court granting final approval of the settlement. Barbier noted that the court first mentioned the deadline in early May 2012.

"The settlement itself outlined what documentation was required, and there were resources available to help claimants - including Spanish and Vietnamese-speaking claimants - understand these requirements," Barbier wrote in the filing.


And some still are wary of the safety of Gulf seafood.

During a public hearing at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference in New Orleans earlier this month, scientists and fishermen gathered to discuss ongoing research about the effects of the spill.

Grand Isle fisherman Dean Blanchard asked two senior scientists at the hearing why the Food and Drug Administration continues to say its testing of shrimp and other seafood taken from Louisiana waters is safe when juvenile shrimp are still traveling through oiled wetlands in the Bay Jimmy area of Barataria Bay, in Plaquemines Parish, which is still off limits to fishing and shrimping.

Steven Murawski, a fishery biologist who served as the chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the spill and now is teaching at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, and Robert Dickey, director of the FDA Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory and the agency's Division of Seafood Science and Technology responded that the FDA has not found contaminant levels of shrimp that is being sold to be at unacceptable levels.

"The bottom line is that the seafood is as safe to consume now as it was before the spill," Dickey said. "We're back to background levels. We were in the fall (of 2010) shortly after the spill dissipated."

Those levels remain 100 to 1,000 times lower than the official levels of concern for certain oil molecules called polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, he said.

Blanchard said that he and other fishermen were concerned that the Bayou Jimmy area had not been cleaned of oil and other contaminants to render it safe for fishing. Murawski agreed that the area needed close scrutiny.
"I think a number of studies talked about this week demonstrate that a substantial amount of oil remains in that marsh," Murawski said. "Seafood safety is a consumer issue. That area is closed because of contamination and it's important to make sure seafood is monitored."
Association of Family Fishermen representative Tracy Kuhns voiced concern about what she viewed as inaccurate claims by scientists at the conference that dispersants to break up oil were never used in inland areas. Kuhns said she and others watched planes spraying dispersant on oil floating in water near Bay Jimmy after oil from the gusher began moving ashore in May 2010.
"We have video of the spraying and video of all that oil popping back up when it was sprayed," Kuhns said. She said she turned the video over to the U.S. Department of Justice, and nothing has come of it.

"Our experience in the Barataria Basin, where we fish, they used dispersants in the estuary and Bay Jimmy, all that entire area, and it's still there today," she said. "Shrimp and crab and fish production have all been affected. Shrimp production in the Barataria Basin is 46 percent down."

Coastal researcher Donald Boesch, a New Orleans native who was a member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, stated that charges of widespread dispersant spraying had been raised in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama, but had not been proven.
"We found no evidence except for two incidents involving short flights, where the planes dumped their load shorter than they should have," he said. "There was nothing that we could document that was less than 10 miles from the coast."

Both BP and the Coast Guard, which oversaw the oil spill cleanup, have repeatedly denied similar charges of spraying in inshore waters, saying that flight plans filed with the Coast Guard back them up.

But Boesch also reiterated that presentations Tuesday at the conference do indicate that contamination from oil is still being found in sediments in Louisiana wetlands, including in Barataria Bay.

"They do find contamination there and it's clearly the result of the spill," he said. "The question is how long will it last."

As Gulf Watchers and others have maintained, the situation in the Gulf will most likely show - as was the case with the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound - that environmental effects may take years to become apparent.
But questions and concerns still remain, Boesch said, including how to deal with the remaining oil contamination in marshes like along Bay Jimmy, or at Barataria Bay Mangrove Island, a brown pelican rookery that seemed to be recovering a year after the spill. But in 2012, the mangroves on the island were dying off, possibly because of rising water levels and the additional stress caused by oil pollution.

Oops...

TransCanada contractors building the Keystone XL pipeline mistakenly planned their route and cleared several hundred feet of land through public property they had no right to work on, an Angelina County official told FuelFix.

Officials noticed the mistake after protesters set up in trees in Angelina County to oppose work on the pipeline, which is intended to link the Texas coast with Canadian oil sands fields.

TransCanada workers thought the land was privately owned and had planned the Keystone XL route to move through that property. The company had negotiated an agreement with a landowner and had paid him for use of the property for Keystone XL, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said.

It’s up to us to check things like that and inadvertently we staked out that area,” Dodson said. “It’s an error and we are working to correct that.”

Bradford, who does not live on the property, said he was not aware of the mistake. But it was unclear why TransCanada would have been confused about the land, he said.

“There’s no question about it being the county property,” Bradford said.  ”I mean, they built the weight station there. It most certainly wouldn’t have belonged to me. Anybody would know.”

The county asked TransCanada to stop work on its property until the situation is resolved, Jones said.

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