A court order, handed down by a judge in New Orleans, means BP will no longer be liable for a maximum of $21bn in fines at next week’s civil trial – after a judge ruled the oil company would not have to pay for 810,000 barrels of oil collected at the source of the broken well.
The oil company had been facing up to $21bn in fines in the civil case, based on the amount of oil that gushed into the Gulf following the fatal blowout of its well.
The federal government estimates that about 4.9m barrels of oils were released before BP engineers sealed off the well three months later.
The case was set to be the costliest to date for BP, which has already spent billions on cleanup costs, and settling thousands of claims arising from the 2010 disaster.
But the oil company got a break when the Justice Department agreed not to hold BP accountable for 800,000 barrels of oil which were captured at the site of the broken well.
District judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the case in New Orleans, accepted the agreement on Tuesday night. “The ‘collected oil’ … never came into contact with any ambient sea water, and was not released to the environment in any way,” he said in the ruling.
The deal reduces BP’s potential exposure to the civil trial from $21bn to $17.6bn.
The federal government has said it will establish gross negligence on the part of BP in the 2010 blowout, which killed 11 men and fouled the Gulf of Mexico. That could treble BP’s fines under the Clean Water Act.
The oil company, in combative statements this week, accused the federal government of making excessive demands.
The company’s lawyers have told journalists they believe damages should be capped at a few billion dollars, and they are ready to take the risk of taking the federal government to court. BP is also disputing the federal government’s oil spill estimate, saying the figure is 20% too high.
With Tuesday’s court order, however, BP appears to have taken a first step towards reducing its potential liability in the case.
- Judge cuts potential fine against BP by $3.4B (bizjournals.com)
- U.S. judge accepts BP collected 810,000 barrels in spill (news.yahoo.com)
- Feds, BP agree oil captured not part of penalties (news.yahoo.com)
from The Independent: Thousands of seabirds may have been harmed by a pollutant in the waters off the south coast of the UK, conservationists warned on Friday.
Tests by the Environment Agency have established that the problem has been caused by some sort of refined mineral oil, not palm oil as had been suspected.
Hundreds of birds have been found coated in the substance. Some have died and washed up on beaches from Hampshire to Cornwall, while others have been rescued and are being cleaned up. The bird charity the RSPB has branded the incident a “disaster” and some experts fear thousands of birds could be suffering out at sea.
The problem was first noticed on Tuesday, when a few birds were found coated in a sticky white substance. By Thursday the numbers coming ashore, often with their wings pinned to their sides by the substance, had increased substantially.
About 100 birds were found on Chesil beach in Dorset, 60 a little further west at Brixham and many other individual birds and smaller groups elsewhere along the coast. Fears grew on Friday morning when 20 birds were found dead on Chesil Beach and another 10 later at Bournemouth.Many more birds were reported to have been in distress out to sea.
Most of the birds affected are guillemots, which spend most of their life out at sea, making them vulnerable to oil spills.
Some rescued guillemots are in breeding plumage, which suggests they are residents of the south-west. Others are in winter plumage, meaning they are from further north, probably Scotland and Norway.
A spokeswoman for the RSPB said staff and volunteers were making spot checks around the south-west coastline. She said: “The information gathered will help us assess the scale of any impacts and inform discussion on whether to undertake an emergency beached bird survey.”
She described Lyme Bay as “internationally important for seabirds”, adding: “Currently we know the area is being used for 25,000 guillemots, although we don’t know how many will be affected by this disaster. The area is also used by rare seabirds, including scoter, divers and grebes. Impacts on these species could have higher conservation significance.”
Many of the surviving birds are being treated at the RSPCA’s West Hatch centre, where there are more than 200 birds. Supervisor Paul Oaten has been cleaning them in the centre’s dedicated cleaning room using vegetable oil and margarine, followed by detergent.
“The birds that have been deemed fit enough and bright enough to wash have had margarine massaged into the areas of feathering where this very sticky contaminant is,” he said. “We’ve left that for half an hour, maybe a little bit more, to break down the contaminant and now what we are doing is putting them through our usual wash process with washing detergent.”
He said many more birds would be affected out at sea. “There will be thousands affected in the Channel. We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are lot more out at sea that are dead or coming ashore. It can affect thousands and thousands of birds depending on the number of birds passing through and the size of the slick out there.”
Kevin Rylands, an RSPB conservation officer who spent Friday in Devon, said that when the cargo ship MSC Napoli beached in 2007 it was several days before it became clear how many birds had been affected. Some were eventually found not just on British beaches but on French ones.
On Friday Stan Woznicki, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency‘s head of counter-pollution, said: “Initial analysis indicates that the contaminant is a refined mineral oil and further analysis results are awaited.”
Simon Boxall, associate lecturer at the school of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, said such a substance could have come from a ship’s engine but the apparent range of the problem suggested it might have come from a cargo that had been accidentally spilled or deliberately discharged.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has had a spotter plane up looking for a slick but found nothing so far.
Tim Birkhead, who has studied the guillemots on the Welsh island of Skomer for the past 40 years, said: “My first thought on hearing the news about this incident was that this will have affected some Skomer guillemots – including some of my ringed birds that I’ve known for many years.
“The priority is to find a way of cleaning the birds’ plumage. The other priority is to find out who is responsible. For those suffering from this unknown pollutant, what an ignominious end for a long-lived seabird.”
- Thousands of seabirds may be harmed by oil off UK coast (guardian.co.uk)
- British seabirds fall victim to mystery goo (guardian.co.uk)
- Seabird ‘pollution’ incident probed (express.co.uk)
- South coast seabirds in a sticky ordeal: Hundreds wash up on coast covered in … – Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk)
- Mystery deepens as increasing numbers of stricken birds wash up on Dorset coast (independent.co.uk)
- Seabird ‘Pollution’ Substance May Be Palm Oil (news.sky.com)
- Rescue for birds covered in ‘wax’ (bbc.co.uk)
The Daily Mail reports
- More than 100 distressed birds, mostly guillemots, were discovered
- Volunteers try to wash glue-like substance off the birds, which have been ‘paralysed’ by the waxy substance
- There are fears hundreds more could be affected in the next few days
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2271691/South-coast-seabirds-sticky-ordeal-Hundreds-wash-coast-covered-palm-oil-fell-passing-ship.html#ixzz2JocYyVUx
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- Seabirds wash up on English coast covered in sticky substance (sott.net)
- UK News: Probe no closer to identifying ‘sticky substance’ covering hundreds of seabirds on the south coast (birminghampost.net)
- UK News: Probe no closer to identifying ‘sticky substance’ covering hundreds of seabirds on the south coast (walesonline.co.uk)
- National News: Probe no closer to identifying ‘sticky substance’ covering hundreds of seabirds on the south coast (coventrytelegraph.net)
- Mystery substance covers hundreds of washed-up seabirds (independent.co.uk)
One year on from the Rena disaster, independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird is still concerned at the ongoing environmental impacts of the oil spill, unrecovered containers and the shipwreck.
Forest & Bird Central North Island Field Officer Al Fleming says 350 containers from the ship have not been recovered. “These containers are breaking down, possibly releasing debris and toxic chemicals into the marine environment.
“The wreck is still on the reef, and Forest & Bird is concerned at possible pollution of Bay of Plenty waters from this. Before deciding on whether the Rena wreck should remain, we would like to see an assessment of the environmental impacts,” Al Fleming says.
The loss of an estimated 20,000 birds when 350 tonnes of heavy fuel leaked from the grounded ship has had a terrible effect on populations of many species of birds that live in the Bay of Plenty and further afield. “Bay of Plenty beaches, estuaries and harbours are important nesting sites for many of our shorebirds, including oyster catchers and terns,” Al Fleming says.
The impact of the oil spill on the local New Zealand dotterel population has been of most serious concern. “Dotterels are a threatened species with a population between 1500 and 1800,” says Al Fleming. “After the Rena disaster, 60 adults were removed from Bay of Plenty beaches. Five died from a lung infection while in captivity. No eggs or chicks were removed from the beaches so they were lost as well. This is a significant loss when you’re talking about a small population of birds.”
Forest & Bird is working with central government, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and WWF-NZ on a three-year Bay of Plenty Shorebird Protection Programme to re-establish shorebird populations devastated in the oil spill.
Work has already started on pest control, habitat restoration, an education programme in schools, and raising public awareness of threats to our native shorebirds.
“This year’s breeding season and the success of the shorebird protection programme is critical to the long-term recovery of bird populations,” says Al Fleming.
Forest & Bird is continuing to work with Rena operator Costamare and insurer the Swedish Club to create a fund for the long-term recovery of the region’s environment.
Al Fleming says the oil spill was a tragedy for nature, and Forest & Bird supports the independent review being launched to ensure our environment is safeguarded from future disasters. “I hope the lessons from the Rena can teach us how to avoid other potential environmental catastrophes if we pursue offshore oil and gas drilling.”
A giant milestone has been reached in the battle to protect the Bay’s environment from oil leaking out of the Rena. The Bay of Plenty Times reports
Maritime New Zealand has announced that the oil pollution threat from the wreck is now so low that it has scaled down the emergency and handed over responsibility to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
National on-scene commander Rob Service said reducing the oil spill response from a national to regional level was a milestone and testimony to months of hard work. “This has been an amazing effort,” he said.
The decision to downgrade the Rena from a national level oil emergency was taken after the wreck was assessed as having a minimal oil spill threat, leaving the regional council as the agency responsible for monitoring spills and future clean-ups.
Mr Service said oil levels in previously affected areas were now so low that clean-ups were not warranted. Public sightings of oil in recent months had been consistently low.
The previously massive effort had been scaled down to the point where only a few oil spill response teams were still surveying affected areas.
He emphasised the response had been scaled down, not stopped. “It is a real achievement to reach this point.”
At the height of the crisis, international experts were assisting Maritime NZ to cope with the oil spilling out of the Rena.
Many local volunteers cleaned up the beaches they loved, helped by hundreds of army personnel. Iwi and other local councils also played significant roles in the clean-up.
Meanwhile, salvors had this week focused on cutting up hatch covers and removing them from the wreck.
Fine weather had allowed divers to remove debris from the sea bed around the stern section of the wreck.
The contents of containers continued to be removed using a heavy-lift helicopter. A total of 769 containers had been brought ashore, leaving about 200 in the bow section of Rena and 358 in the aft section or on the seabed.
A grid survey was under way on Matakana Island‘s 23km of beaches as part of the plan to vacuum up the remaining plastic beads that washed up from Rena.
- Rena report reaction: ‘A series of poor decisions’ (nzherald.co.nz)
- Rena oil spill: Last major release of affected wildlife (nzherald.co.nz)
- Delay sought in oil spill fraud sentencing (mysanantonio.com)
- Rena salvage operation continues (nzherald.co.nz)
- ‘Poor Decisions’ Drove Rena Aground – Tauranga Mayor (ibtimes.com)
- Rena debris washes up on Coromandel shores (nzherald.co.nz)
- Reef ship pair plead guilty in NZ (bbc.co.uk)
- Rena-costs fight heads for court (nzherald.co.nz)
- First ‘Microsubmarines’ Designed to Help Clean Up Oil Spills (InnovationToronto.com)