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Federal lawsuit seeks to stop drilling at BP Gulf platform

DC-based consumer advocacy organization Food and Water Watch (FWW) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] in a US district court Monday against the US Department of Interior (DOI) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official websites] for an injunction to halt drilling at the BP Atlantis Facility [corporate website] in the Gulf of Mexico. FWW joined suit with Kenneth Abbott, a former safety contract engineer for BP, claiming that DOI and MMS allowed BP to operate the Atlantis Facility without documented, approved final engineering drawings considered critical to safe operation. FWW and Abbot hold that although federal law requires 100 percent engineer approved "as built" drawings for most platform systems, less then 10 percent of BP's Atlantis Facility drawings had met these specifications. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website], lists several attempts by both FWW and Abbott to address this safety issues with the DOI and MMS, but no action was taken by either government organization to compel BP to produce the requisite drawings.

The gravity of BP's conduct has and will continue to have long lasting effect on the environment and public health, and DOI and MMS's failure to enforce its regulations against BP has only accelerated the time to another BP catastrophe. Accordingly, it is necessary that DOI and MMS be enjoined to temporarily prohibit production at the BP Atlantis Facility in order to protect and prevent further catastrophic destruction, and to further ensure the its regulations are enforced. ... [U]nless relief is granted by this Court, a catastrophe is certain to occur at the [facility], which will undoubtedly cause unprecedented, irreparable damages to the environment in and surround the Gulf of Mexico and the general public health.
BP has repeatedly claimed that it has worked with the DOI and MMS to meet the specifications required for the Atlantis Facility, but the allegations against them raise more doubts on how well federal regulators, especially MMS, have been inspecting BP facilities in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion [BBC backgrounder] last month. In response, the Obama administration asked DOI Secretary Kenneth Salazar [official profile] to conduct a "top-to-bottom" reform of the MMS [speech text] and ordered immediate inspections of all deep water operations in the Gulf. Salazar and other federal officials will be questioned on Tuesday by Senate committees on the efficacy of actions taken to prevent the April oil spill.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] defended [testimony] the federal government's "all-hands-on-deck" response to the oil spill before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs [official website], stating that the government lacked the resources and expertise to deal with a spill of this magnitude, and must therefore depend on the response of BP to resolve the subsea oil spill. President Barack Obama has announced that he is forming a presidential commission [AP report] to investigate the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and will be similar to the ones that investigated the Challenger explosion and the nuclear disaster on Three Mile Island. Also on Monday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works [official website] asked US Attorney General Eric Holder to open an investigation [press release] into potential violations of civil and criminal laws related to the BP oil spill. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that the caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. Eleven platform workers are missing and presumed dead, and 17 others were injured. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is part of an ongoing debate [NPR report] and has ranged from 5,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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