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In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
MDL No. 2179 (E.D. La. 2012)


Facts

BP Exploration and Production, Inc. (BP) (defendant) and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (Anadarko) (defendant) co-leased oil and gas rights in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) and co-owned a producing well on the leasehold. A blowout occurred in the well while Deepwater Horizon, a mobile offshore-drilling unit (MODU) owned by Transocean (defendant), was engaged in drilling operations on the well. Deepwater Horizon broke off the well and sank. As a result, oil flowed from the well, through what remained of the riser that had connected the well to Deepwater Horizon, and into the Gulf. The United States government (plaintiff) sought to impose joint and several liability on all defendants under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. §§ 2701-04, for the oil-removal costs and damages. Transocean argued that it was not liable for underwater oil discharges because it was not a lessee. The OPA provided that parties responsible for removal costs included the owner of a vessel and the lessee of an area in which an offshore facility was operating. The OPA further provided that an MODU could be classified as either a vessel or a facility, depending on what it was being used for at the time of the discharge. Finally, the OPA provided that even if the MODU was being used as an offshore facility at the time of discharge, the MODU would be deemed a vessel for purposes of determining liability for discharge on or above the surface of the water. The government also sought to impose civil penalties on the defendants under the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(7). Under the CWA, the government could impose liability if a defendant was the owner or operator of a vessel or offshore facility from which oil was discharged into waters in harmful quantities. Anadarko argued that “from” meant the point at which oil entered the water, or in this case, the end of the broken riser from Deepwater Horizon. All parties moved for summary judgment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Barbier, J.)

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