Tag Archives: Spill

Oil Spill Response: Responder Immunity Analyzed

On February 16, 2016, Judge Carl J. Barbier of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted summary judgment in favor of the various commercial oil spill response companies involved in the federal government’s response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  The responders had been sued by numerous individuals claiming that they incurred damages, including personal injury and/or medical monitoring claims for exposure or other injury resulting from the post-explosion and spill clean-up efforts.  Plaintiffs fell into five categories: (1) crew involved in the Vessels of Opportunity (VoO) program; (2) workers involved in decontaminating vessels; (3) other marine personnel not involved in the VoO program; (4) clean-up workers and beach personnel involved in onshore clean-up efforts; and (5) residents who lived and worked in close proximity to coastal waters who alleged exposure to oil and/or dispersants.  The plaintiffs asserted negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se, nuisance, and battery on the part of the responders.  In addition to compensatory damages, they sought punitive damages and declaratory relief; Florida plaintiffs also sought medical monitoring awards, as allowed by state law.

Following extensive discovery, the clean-up responder defendants filed a motion for summary judgment.  Plaintiffs were given one more chance to provide some specificity to their broad claims of misconduct by the clean-up responders but were unable or unwilling to do so.  At that point, the court could have simply dismissed the case on the ground that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact.  The court noted, though, that the clean-up responders had gathered substantial evidence that their clean-up activities were at the direction of the federal government involving an oil spill of national significance.  Plaintiffs’ counsel objected to admission of that evidence, but the court overruled the objections.  



The court found that, in accordance with the Clean Water Act, the President had delegated full authority to control the oil spill response to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC), including the actions undertaken by private parties.  In accordance with the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), and the National Contingency Plan, the effective and immediate removal of a discharge and the efficient, coordinated, and effective action to minimize the damage from the discharge are best achieved if the President, acting through the FOSC, directs all levels of response – federal, state, and private – so as to eliminate the confusion that impeded past responses by establishing a clear chain of command and responsibility.  This spill response regime imposes a duty on private entities such as defendant clean-up responders to obey the FOSC’s direction during the response effort.  The evidence clearly showed that the FOSC, after consulting with numerous parties and considering the advantages and disadvantages of the various actions, specifically ordered the various actions, including use of chemical dispersants, involved in plaintiffs’ complaints.




















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Transocean Defeats Shareholder Appeal over Gulf Spill

Transocean Ltd on Thursday won the dismissal of an appeal by shareholders accusing the owner of the doomed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig of deceiving them about its safety practices prior to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the lead plaintiff waited two months too long to sue over alleged misstatements in an Oct. 2, 2007, proxy statement for the offshore drilling company’s merger with GlobalSantaFe Corp.


Shares of Transocean rose 3 percent after the decision was issued.


Geoffrey Johnson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, declined to comment. Transocean and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Former GlobalSantaFe shareholders, who received Transocean shares in the merger, said the proxy statement contained false and misleading statements about the company’s compliance with environmental laws.


Led by the DeKalb County Pension Fund in Decatur, Georgia, the shareholders sought to hold the Swiss company liable for their losses after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and blowout of BP Plc’s Macondo well.


The disaster caused Transocean shares to lose more than half their value within seven weeks.


Writing for the appeals court, however, Circuit Judge José Cabranes said the Georgia fund did not join the case until Dec. 3, 2010, missing the three-year deadline to sue over the proxy statement.


He said it did not matter that the lawsuit was originally filed before the deadline, but by another shareholder that was later dismissed from the case because it lacked standing.


The plaintiff “through minimal diligence” could have saved its case by getting involved sooner and offered no justification for its lateness, Cabranes wrote.


The Georgia fund had argued that the three-year clock began to tick when the Deepwater Horizon exploded, bring Transocean’s prior misstatements to light.


Thursday’s decision upheld a March 2014 dismissal of the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan.


Transocean agreed in January 2013 to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties to settle U.S. government claims over the spill.


BP has incurred $55.5 billion of costs for the spill. It faces its own U.S. shareholder lawsuit in Houston federal court.


In early afternoon trading, Transocean’s American depositary receipts were up 3 percent at $11.56. Its shares in Switzerland were up 3 percent at 11.11 Swiss francs.


The case is DeKalb County Pension Fund v. Transocean Ltd et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-0894.


Reporting by Jonathan Stempel

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Mississippi River Reopened After Fuel Spill

The Mississippi River is reopened near Granite City, Illinois, after clean-up operations at Lock and Dam 27 were completed, Friday.


An auxiliary lock was opened at the Lock and Dam 27 site for commerce to continue.


The towing vessel Gregory David was transiting the lock and dam, and was damaged, rupturing a tank with approximately 20,000 gallons of fuel aboard. The spill was reportedly contained within the lock.


The cause of the incident is under investigation.

 

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Second Major California Beach to Reopen after May Oil Spill

 

The second of two major California beaches that were closed after a ruptured pipeline spewed some 2,400 barrels of crude oil will be reopened next week, state parks officials said on Friday.


Refugio State Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) west of Santa Barbara, was closed along with nearby El Capitan State Beach after they were fouled when an underground pipeline that runs along the coastal highway burst on May 19.


“We’re obviously excited to get the park open again,” said Eric Hjelstrom, California’s state park superintendent. El Capitan State Beach was reopened on June 26.


Hjelstrom said officials had completed a site assessment of Refugio State Beach and had determined that it was safe for members of the public to use again.


Following the spill, federal inspectors determined that the section of pipeline owned by Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline that ruptured had been badly corroded and was degraded to 1/16th of an inch (1.6 mm).


The spill dumped as much as 2,400 barrels (101,000 gallons or 382,000 liters) of crude onto a pristine stretch of the Santa Barbara coastline and into the Pacific, leaving slicks that stretched over nine miles (14 km) along the coast and closing the two state beaches.


The spill zone lies at the edge of a national marine sanctuary and state-designated underwater preserve teeming with whales, dolphins, sea lions, some 60 species of sea birds and more than 500 species of fish.


The surrounding waters are shared by nearly two dozen offshore oil platforms.


Nearly 250 petroleum-stained sea birds have been recovered dead and alive since the spill, along with over 260 marine mammals suspected of being spill casualties, according to a running tally kept by wildlife officials.


(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Beech)

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