The Legal Issues and Ethical Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and British Petroleum Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010

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BP Gulf Oil Spill 1

Running Head: BP GULF OIL SPILL

The Legal Issues and Ethical Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and British Petroleum Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010

Terry D. Bollman

Park University

BP Gulf Oil Spill 2

British Petroleum’s Roll in the Gulf Oil Spill
This paper will explain some of the effects of three legal issues and three ethical issues surrounding the London-based British Petroleum Company’s involvement in the explosion of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon and the subsequent oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. There are many legal issues surrounding this disaster, but the three this paper will focus on are the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, maritime laws, and criminal charges that may be brought against BP executives. The ethical issues explored will be who is responsible for deaths due to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, who is responsible for the oil cleanup, and who is required to compensate the people whose livelihood has been put in jeopardy.

BP Gulf Oil Spill 3

The Legal Issues and Ethical Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and British Petroleum Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was signed into law in August that year. It came about mostly because of the public response and concerns after the Exxon Valdez incident in which an oil tanker heading to port in Long Beach, CA ran aground in Prince Williams Sound, AK spilling up to an estimated 750,000 barrels of crude oil. Although ranking well down the list on the world’s largest oil spills for quantity dumped, the remote location of the spill made response and recovery extremely difficult. One of the key provisions of the OPA - §1002(a) Provides that the responsible party for a vessel or facility from which oil is discharged, or which poses a substantial threat of a discharge, is liable for: (1) certain specified damages resulting from the discharged oil; and (2) removal costs incurred in a manner consistent with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (“Oil pollution act,”2009). One of the concerns for BP is that it leased the oil rig that was ultimately the source of the largest oil spill in history after it exploded on April 20, 2010 and sinking two days later. Eleven people were killed in the explosion. During the almost ten years that BP had been leasing the oil rig, there were five violations, four of which were for safety reasons. One of those violations was for the blowout preventer that allowed the explosion to occur.

The maritime laws that surround this case are the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) and the Limitation on Liability Act of 1851 (LOLA). The OPA limits BP’s liability to a $75 million cap. The DOHSA limits the amount the families of the eleven explosion victims aboard the Deepwater Horizon can recover. As the law is currently written, BP would only be responsible for the loss of financial support the victims would have provided and burial expenses. LOLA BP Gulf Oil Spill 4

currently limits the financial responsibilities to the value of the post-accident vessel, which in this case is $27 million according to Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon. “When Congress returns from its August recess, it must update these antiquated maritime laws to ensure that Gulf Coast families are fully compensated and that BP is held accountable”. (Vance, 2010). The last legal issue discussed in this paper is the criminal charges that might be brought against executives from the BP Corporation. (Mallor, Barnes, Bowers, & Langvardt, 2010, pg 1135). U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made claims that he ‘intended to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law’ anyone that has broken the law. Some of the violations in question are the Clean Water Act, which carries criminal and civil penalties and fines; the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which can be used to hold parties responsible for cleanup costs; the...
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