U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier this morning reaffirmed his prior rulings that Pat Juneau, claims administrator for the Deepwater Horizon Economic Settlement, is correctly interpreting how the multi-billion settlement is paid out to business claimants who suffered losses related to the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster. Barbier dismissed a lawsuit BP filed against Juneau and denying the company's motion for a preliminary injunction on certain types of claim payments.
Today's hearing took place before a courtroom filled to capacity. Court officials opened up an overflow room (where I was) which itself was about half-filled.
The disagreement involves only business economic loss (BEL) claimants. BEL claimants have so far received the largest damage amounts. BP initially anticipated that the entire settlement would cost about $7.8 billion, but its potential exposure on BELs alone — one claim category of 12 — could surpass that.
Yesterday, the company appealed Barbier's earlier ruling siding with Juneau's interpretation.
(More after the jump)
Transocean Deepwater Inc. has agreed to pay $400 million in criminal fines and penalties and, within the terms of a proposed partial consent decree, $1 billion for Clean Water Act violations for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
The order mandates $150 million of the $400 million will be dedicated to "acquiring, restoring, preserving and conserving" marine and coastal environments and wildlife habitat along the Gulf of Mexico, and a portion will also benefit barrier island restoration and wetland restoration along Louisiana. An additional $150 million will be directed to training for and implementing proper drilling procedures. The unprecedented $1 billion from Clean Water Act violations will be subject to the recently approved RESTORE Act, which will funnel 80 percent to Gulf Coast states
Under the settlement, Transocean also must implement federally mandated improvements to rig conditions, rig safety and emergency response. With its guilty plea, Transocean admits that its crewmembers aboard the Deepwater Horizon failed to fully investigate whether the well was secure, and that oil and gas were flowing into the well before its explosion and months-long leak in 2010.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "This resolution of criminal allegations and civil claims against Transocean brings us one significant step closer to justice for the human, environmental and economic devastation wrought by the Deepwater Horizon disaster."
Updated 12:05 p.m., following Coast Guard press conference.
Here's a quick summary of some of the updates from this morning's news of an oil platform (not a rig) that caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico at about 9:15 a.m.:
The U.S. Coast Guard announced that an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico was on fire — Facebook photos shared with KLFY-TV confirmed.
Houston station KHOU-TV reported
two deaths on the platform, with two missing (presumed dead) and four with serious injuries, who were airlifted from the platform.
Update (12:05 p.m.): U.S. Coast Guard reports there no confirmed deaths, though there are two missing platform workers.
From WWL-TV: The platform is about 20 miles from Grand Isle and is owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy (which also has offices in Louisiana). The platform workers arrived at West Jefferson Medical Center, then transported to Baton Rouge Burn Center, where they are in critical condition.
KLFY also reported that the fire likely started after platform maintenance workers cut into a pipe from which oil may have escaped. WWL reported that the platform was not producing any oil.
According to WWNO, Black Elk Energy owns, operates or has a financial interest in more than 854 wells on 155 platforms across 430,000 acres offshore.
The Coast Guard reported that there were 26 workers on the platform (though initial reports said there were 28), and a total of nine people were air-lifted. Grand Isle EMS met other workers as they arrived on shore.
According to WWL, Plaquemines Parish officials contained the fire by 10:30 a.m., and Jefferson Parish officials later reported the fire was out.
Follow the Twitter hashtag #platformfire for breaking updates.
Update (12:05): Ed Cubanski, incident management branch chief for the 8th Coast Guard district said the fire likely started from a torch used to cut a 75-feet-long line on the platform. There may have been 28 gallons of oil in the pipe, and a one half-mile-long oil sheen has been spotted in the area. Eleven people were Medevaced to four area hospitals, and Coast Guard crew from Venice, Grand Isle and New Orleans are looking for two crewmembers. Four crewmembers are being treated for burns in Baton Rouge.
BP has agreed to plead guilty to 14 federal criminal counts related to the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster — including 11 counts of felony manslaughter for the workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced at a New Orleans press conference today.
"BP has agreed to plead guilty to all 14 criminal charges including responsibility for the deaths of 11 people and the events that led to an environmental catastrophe," Holder said. "The company has also agreed to pay $4 billion in fines and in penalties. This marks both the largest single criminal fine — more than $1.25 billion — and the largest total criminal resolution — $4 billion — in the history of the United States."
The U.S. Department of Justice has also indicted two former supervisors on the Deepwater Horizon — Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine — for manslaughter. Kaluza and Vidrine are scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 28.
"After nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars in investigation, the Government needs a scapegoat. Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day.m No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice," reads an emailed statement from Kaluza's attorneys Shaun Clarke and David Gerger.
(More after the jump)
Since it began its data collection in March 2011, the Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up (GuLF) study — a $25 million, 10-year project under the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — has gathered more than 29,000 participants to study the health implications of handling (and exposure to) oil, dispersants and other chemicals in the cleanup operations following the BP oil disaster.
The study closes its enrollment period at the end of year, on Dec. 31, and cleanup workers, rig workers, or people who received cleanup training or were assigned to the Gulf following the disaster are all encouraged to participate to help "get a full picture of what happened during oil spill and understand how it affected people’s health," said Dr. Dale Sandler, who heads the study. It aims to recruit 55,000 participants, but Sandler said, "If we can get to 35,000 or 40,000, we’d be a tremendous success." The study already is the largest of its kind.
As Sandler told Gambit last year as the study was underway, the scope of the project could include "looking at respiratory effects and nonspecific complaints — dizziness and headaches," but it's also interested in the long-term issues like chronic diseases and cancer. During a Tuesday phone conference, Sandler said she hopes the findings "will provide information on how oil spills impact physical and mental health," including depression, stress and anxiety.
The study begins with a telephone interview with detailed questions about work performed during the disaster, health at that time and health now, and lifestyle factors and other job history. The call is followed by a home visit from a trained medical examiner, who takes biological samples and tests lung function. Participants are given a $50 gift card. If necessary, participants are referred to a free or low-cost physician.
So far, Sandler said, 450 people were told to go see a doctor for elevated blood pressure or for poor lung function. Most participants with referrals are sent to a general medical practice, an urgent care facility or community clinic. Some have had consultations with practices that specialize in dealing with chemical exposure, she said.
The America’s WETLAND Foundation's latest report urges lawmakers to pledge billions of dollars to Gulf Coast restoration.
Released today, “Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability" is the result of forums held in 11 Gulf Coast communities (including Lake Charles, Avery Island, Houma, Plaquemines Parish and New Orleans) in the last year. It gathered 1,100 "stakeholders" in environment, business, government and other agencies to make recommendations for rebuilding the coast. The report also based its recommendations on the findings of a $4.2 million study from Entergy.
The 30 recommendations outlined in the report are a "roadmap for adaptation and long-term sustainability, beginning with an urgent need for federal policy changes," it says. The report's opening letter co-signed by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and officials from Gulf Coast states reads, "We are pleased that this cooperative initiative has positioned the Gulf Coast to adapt to change. Resiliency is often talked about these days, but meaningful action is scarce, and the country cannot afford to wait."
When BP announced earlier this month that it's sending chefs and musicians from the Gulf Coast to the 2012 Olympics in London, which officially kicks off this week, there was mostly positive press from Gulf papers proud to send their hallmark chefs and cuisines to thousands of potential future tourists as part of the oil giant's "Spirit of the Gulf" promotion.
But last week, U.K.'s The Guardian, under the headline "BP's 'spirit of the Gulf' Olympics hospitality is hard to swallow," didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat: "BP has co-opted the phrase 'spirit of the Gulf' as a promotional device to position itself as the gatekeeper to the region's culture and cuisine," and quotes frequent oil disaster source and shrimper Dean Blanchard. Writer Laurie Tuffrey writes:
In the light of the Louisiana memorial's litany of loss, it's hard to say exactly how BP has promoted the Gulf Coast. Ravaging ecosystems and destroying community livelihoods, though, probably wouldn't make the list.
This Olympic marketing move looks, at best, horrifically ironic and, at worst, like rubbing salt (or should I say oil?) in the wound.
Mother Jones, which points back to this blog, writes that BP is sending a message that "Everything's fine in the post-spill Gulf; the 2010 spill and any ill effects from it are dead and gone."
The Kinfolk Brass Band — who will perform in London for the 2012 Olympic Games, thanks to BP — introduced Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne at the Old U.S. Mint this morning, who announced a partnership with Harry Connick Jr. and Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LBP).
In addition to the six-part documentary Louisiana: 200 Years of Statehood, LPB announced it will also air a "musical tribute" to tie in with the state's 2013 tourism campaign highlighting the state's music. BP has provided $1 million for the program.
"It was almost a mandate," Dardenne said, that the state call attention to its musical history for the Bicentennial. Connick will host and narrate the program, which features Louisiana artists performing on-site across the state.
The artists will perform renditions of "You Are My Sunshine," originally recorded by Gov. Jimmie Davis in 1939 and designated as the official state song in 1977. Performers include Connick, the Marsalis Family, Tim McGraw, Rebirth Brass Band, Irma Thomas, The Zion Harmonizers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Buddy Guy, Buckwheat Zydeco, Trombone Shorty, Zachary Richard and Better Than Ezra. (No word on whether it'll include any sludge metal or bounce artists.)
"There's so much talent here, and so much passion in so many areas," Connick said.
The program will weave in several vignettes highlighting the state's agriculture, waterways, tourism and oil and gas industries — the vignettes will be written by Chris Rose and narrated by Connick.
The documentary airs Aug. 13 around the state and Aug. 14 in New Orleans on local affiliate WLAE. The music program airs later this year.
Eight Louisiana and Gulf Coast chefs — including John Folse and Galatoire's executive chef Michael Sichel — are on their way to London. BP will send them to the 2012 Olympic Games host city to fill it with a "dash of spice."
BP announced today via local public relations firm The Ehrhardt Group (of which BP is a client) that the "Spirit of the Gulf" events at the games will target "more than 1,000 people each day" to encourage them to visit the Gulf Coast, and "sample the world’s freshest and best-tasting seafood and experience the Gulf’s unique culture and distinctive attractions."
... the Gulf Coast’s finest are gearing up for a trip across the pond to deliver the ultimate good luck charm — Gulf Coast tastes and tunes. For four days during the 2012 Olympic Games, the ‘Spirit of the Gulf’ will introduce Team USA to a showcase of the Gulf Coast presented by BP.
BP's presence at the 2012 games has already set off a wave of protests — several of the company's massive billboards were smeared with "oil" and a campaign wants to remove BP as an Olympics sponsor.
BP vice president of government and public affairs Crystal Ashby said the company is "proud to use the power of the London 2012 Olympic Games" to promote the Gulf and show the company's "ongoing commitment to the community."
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