Oil giant BP faces billions of pounds in fines after the US administration confirmed it has started legal action against the company for the oil spill that followed an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010.
The spill was the largest in US history, with almost five million barrels of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico devastating coastal and marine wildlife. If found guilty, BP's final bill for clean-up costs and legal bills could exceed the $20 billion it has already been forced to put aside to cover potential compensation claims.
Announcing the lawsuit, the US's top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, said the government intended to prove BP and others were guilty of violating safety regulations that 'caused or contributed to this massive oil spill'. He said the American taxpayer would 'not be forced to bear the costs of restoring the Gulf area'.
'I have seen the devastation that this oil spill caused throughout the region – to individuals and families; to communities and businesses; to coastlines, wetlands, and wildlife.
'Even though the spill has been contained – even though it is no longer the focus of round-the-clock news coverage and the subject of front-page headlines – the department’s focus on investigating this disaster, and preventing future devastation, has not wavered,' said Holder.
However, campaigners said legal action alone would not prevent future disasters. Environmental lawyer Polly Higgins said only by making environmental destruction a criminal offence would it become to be seen as unacceptable.
'This legal action doesn't impose responsibilities on individuals, just the company. No-one will go to prison. They will just pay the fines without changing their policies or practices,' she said.
'The fact is that the largest companies are destroying the planet without paying their dues. We need to impose personal liability to stop ecocide. We have normalised corporate ecocide so that it is acceptable to destroy the planet, when it is not,' Higgins added.
Justice Department notice of legal action
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