Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: The legal response to Deepwater Horizon

US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with drilling company executives last week to hear their concerns about the government's "slow pace" in issuing drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico. It's the latest chapter in the story of the US government's response to the Deepwater Horizon sinking and spill earlier this year, a response which has been controversial at times.

The drilling mortarium. In the immediate aftermath of the spill in April, the Obama administration declared a moratorium on all drilling. When a federal judge struck that down, Salazar in July declared a new moratorium based on new facts and allowing the drilling industry a say in the process. This last moratorium was lifted last month, but many small operators in the Gulf of Mexico say the government is too slow at issuing new permits.

The CLEAR ACT. In July, the US House of Representatives resurrected a 2009 bill and passed it as the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010, or CLEAR Act. The Act was sent to the Senate in August but may not be taken up before the current lame-duck Congress adjourns next month. If passed, CLEAR would
  • reorganize the current government bureaucracy to put leasing and enforcement functions in separate departments
  • eliminate the $75 million cap current placed on liabilities related to oil spills
  • require oil company CEO's to certify that their companies' well designs are safe, that their blowout preventers have redundant systems and backups for all contingencies, and that the company has a backup in case all the preventer systems fail
  • require third-party certification of the above systems
The bill has been criticized by people in the industry and some lawmakers, who say the bill will be a disproportionate burden on smaller operators.

Lawsuits and claims. The spill has resulted in more than 130 lawsuits and 23,000 individual claims. BP and other companies involved in the incident have been paying some claims directly to those affected by the spill. There have been some complaints that the response is slow, but companies say the large number of claims -- legitimate or not -- slows down the process.

The next two years should see a number of lawsuits in the case on a number of issues ranging from wrongful death to the Endangered Species Act. Sorting things out could take awhile: The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill still has pending claims and lawsuits.

Read the full text of the CLEAR Act here.

For information on how to file a claim, check the following websites:

If BP or the GCCF denies your claim, or it goes unsettled more than 90 days, try

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