Using cleanup cost assessments from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, U.S. environmental groups say that BP needs to pay $25 billion on top of the record $17.6 billion in civil fines it may have to pay in order to restore the coast and marine habitats harmed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
BP heads to trial in New Orleans Monday to face civil fines for violating the Clean Water Act with its massive spill, which erupted from the Macondo well about 50 miles from the Louisiana shore and a mile beneath the surface. But according to the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other campaign groups, even the maximum civil penalty won’t be enough to undo all the damage rendered by the spill, the largest in U.S.history.
“If you look at about $25 billion, that at least gets you in the right scale of payments,” John Kostyack, vice president of wildlife conservation for the National Wildlife Federation, told The Guardian. Mr. Kostyack said the figure is based on environmental damage assessments from the Exxon Valdez spill and adjusted up for inflation and quantity of oil spilled.
The Environmental Defense Fund’s Courtney Taylor called on Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the oil spill litigation in New Orleans, to impose the highest possible penalty on BP.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and released an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP has pleaded guilty to multiple felonies and other criminal charges for its role in the disaster. The company agreed in January to pay $4 billion to settle those charges. BP said that so far its costs in cleaning up the spill, paying claims filed by individuals and businesses, and settling criminal charges is $23 billion.
Several campaign groups and individuals on the Gulf Coast are hoping Judge Barbier will take into account all of the investigations that concluded BP took shortcuts aboard the Deepwater Horizon to save time and money and that those lapses in safety led to the blow out. If the judge finds BP acted with gross negligence, it can assess fines at about $4,300 per barrel as opposed to the minimum of $1,100 per barrel under the Clean Water Act.
“We have to keep in mind the scale and the scope of BP’s responsibility in this event,” Ms. Taylor told The Guardian. “There was a culture of corporate recklessness. They botched fundamental safety tests. There were a series of things that led up to this that really show how grossly negligent BP was.”
As for penalties BP says are unfounded and excessive, Mr. Kostyack indicated that damage to the environment and Gulf ecosystems would continue to manifest as the years go by. “Oil does a lot of serious damage to ecosystems and productivity of fisheries,” he told The Guardian. “A lot of damage reveals itself over time. Many, many gallons of oil still haven’t really rolled into the wetlands or beaches. They are still working their way through the system, and we need to include problems that surface over time.”