Feds Should Prosecute, Jail BP Execs
The criminal charges brought against former BP engineer Kurt Mix for allegedly deleting text messages detailing how much oil was gushing from BP’s Macondo oil well should, I believe, be just the beginning of a host of far more serious charges brought against those in the most senior positions of authority at BP.
Among the criminal charges that the Department of Justice should bring include manslaughter charges against, at a minimum, BP’s top executives and managers.
Eleven men died aboard the Deepwater Horizon: Gordon Jones, Dewey Revette, Jason Anderson, Shane Roshto, Stephen Curtis, Blair Manuel, Karl Kleppinger, Adam Weise, Don Clark, Roy Kemp and Aaron Dale Burkeen.
Keith Jones, father of 28-year-old Gordon, told me on the second anniversary of his son’s death in April that he feels BP treated his son as just one more piece of equipment lost in the course of doing business, and one that is just as easily replaced.
He said that in the two years since his son’s death, BP has not so much as sent a card to the Jones family, including Gordon’s widow or young sons, to express regret or condolences for their loss.
Perhaps BP failed to reach out to the Jones family because the company is worried about prosecution. It should be.
Dr. David Uhlmann, former head of the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section, argues in the Michigan Law Review for criminal charges against BP, including manslaughter. He cites Title 18 Section 1115 of the U.S. Criminal Code, known as the “Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute.”
The statute holds companies, executives, managers and employees of vessels liable for fines and imprisonment for deaths occurring on their rigs.
Jeanne Grasso of Blank Rome LLP, a maritime and environmental law expert, says that in applying the statute, “it is important to note that intent is not an element of the offense and it is unnecessary to show that the acts or omissions that caused the loss of life were willful or intentional.” Rather, she explains, simple negligence is enough to secure a conviction.
After two years and numerous critical investigations, the Joint Investigation Team of the U.S. Coast Guard and Interior Department concluded that BP, Transocean and Halliburton violated numerous federal laws that led to the disaster.
The team cites BP, for example, for failing “to protect health, safety, property and the environment by (1) performing all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner; and (2) maintaining all equipment and work areas in a safe condition.”
It cites BP, Transocean and Halliburton for “creating conditions that posed unreasonable risk to public health, life, property, aquatic life, wildlife, recreation, navigation, commercial fishing or other uses of the ocean.”
It also cites the companies for faulty well control, cement job (BP and Halliburton), integrity testing (BP) and maintenance of the critical blowout preventer (BP and Transocean).
As Dr. Uhlmann concludes, “BP has all but acknowledged its negligence — and has inculpated Transocean and Halliburton — in its internal investigation of the factors that caused the Gulf oil spill.”
He goes on to argue that “if the Justice Department were to decline criminal prosecution under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, the government would send the wrong message about the value of the lives of the workers who died when the Deepwater Horizon exploded.”
Fortunately, we have laws that not only can punish these actions and provide for restitution, but are also designed to deter such risky and destructive activities.
If found guilty under the Seaman’s Statute, criminal penalties include up to 10 years imprisonment per violation (person killed) and fines of $250,000 per violation for individuals and $500,000 fine per violation for a company.
The full force of the law must be brought to bear on all those responsible. To do otherwise is to simply guarantee that the costs associated with such a tragedy will be both bearable and manageable — and, thus, acceptable.