Govt sues BP, other companies in Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight othercompanies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recoverbillions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S.history.

The Obama administration's lawsuit asks that the companies beheld liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for allremoval costs and damages caused by the oil spill, includingdamages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civilpenalties under the Clean Water Act.

"We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed tothe massive oil spill," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a newsconference.

The federal lawsuit says inadequate cementing of the wellcontributed to the disaster. Similar charges were made by BP in itsinternal investigation, and by the independent presidential oilspill commission. But Halliburton Co., the contractor in charge ofmixing and pumping the cement, is not named in the suit.

Holder said it is conceivable that additional defendants couldbe added to the lawsuit. "This is an ongoing process," the attorneygeneral said.

The amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained bythe United States as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill arenot yet fully known, the lawsuit states.

An explosion that killed 11 workers at BP's Macondo well lastApril led to oil spewing from the company's undersea well - morethan 200 million gallons in all by the government's estimate. BPdisputes the figure.

The department filed the suit in federal court in NewOrleans.

The other defendants in the case are Anadarko Exploration &Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC;Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Transocean Holdings LLC and TransoceanOffshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. and Transocean Deepwater Inc.; andTransocean's insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd's Syndicate1036.

Anadarko and MOEX are minority owners of the well that blew out.Transocean owned the rig that BP was leasing.

Transocean disputed the allegations, insisting it should not beheld liable for the actions of others. "No drilling contractor hasever been held liable for discharges from a well under the OilPollution Act of 1990," the company said in a statement e-mailed toThe Associated Press. "The responsibility for hydrocarbonsdischarged from a well lies solely with its owner andoperator."

QBE/Lloyd's can be held liable only up to the amount ofinsurance policy coverage under the Oil Pollution Act and is notbeing sued under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit alleges that safety and operating regulations wereviolated in the period leading up to April 20.

It says that the defendants failed to keep the Macondo wellunder control during that period and failed to use the bestavailable and safest drilling technology to monitor the well'sconditions. They also failed to maintain continuous surveillanceand failed to maintain equipment and material that were availableand necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel,equipment, natural resources and the environment, the suitcharges.

Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Houseenergy panel that is investigating the spill, acknowledged thegovernment will have a tough fight on its hands since BP hasalready taken an aggressive stance regarding its liability.

"It may have taken these companies months to cap their well, butthey will spend years trying to cap their financial obligations tothe people of the Gulf," Markey said. "That is why it is vital forthe Obama administration to swiftly advance this legal action."

Before Wednesday, potential class-action lawsuits had been filedin the Gulf oil spill by fishing and seafood interests, the tourismindustry, restaurants and clubs, property owners losing vacationrenters - even vacationers who claim the spill forced them tocancel and lose a deposit. So far, more than 300 suits have beenspawned by the spill and consolidated in federal court in NewOrleans.

Wednesday's move by the Justice Department follows the Obamaadministration's decision not to open new areas of the eastern Gulfand Atlantic seaboard to drilling. That marked a reversal from anearlier decision to hunt for oil and gas, an announcement thepresident himself made last spring three weeks before thespill.

The staff of a presidentially appointed commission looking intothe spill has said that the disaster resulted from questionabledecisions and management failures by three companies: BP, the wellowner and operator; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizonrig; and Halliburton.

The panel found 11 decisions made by these companies increasedrisk. Most saved time, and all but one had a safer alternative.

Separately, an administrator is doling out money to Gulf oilspill victims from a $20 billion fund of BP money.

The Justice Department isn't the first government entity to sueBP. Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed federal lawsuits inAugust on behalf of the state against BP, rig owner Transocean,cement contractor Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and othercompanies that worked on the ill-fated drilling project.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over most of theconsolidated federal suits. In September, Louisiana AttorneyGeneral James "Buddy" Caldwell's office asked Barbier to create a"government case track" to handle government-related suitsseparately from other claims. The judge hasn't ruled on thatrequest yet.