Drillers: BP can’t escape liabilities by blaming feds for moratorium

HOUSTON – Plaintiffs’ attorneys say BP can’t dismiss lawsuits from drillers and oil-field service companies by arguing that it was the federal government’s fault they lost money during the Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium in 2010.

Late Monday, lawyers for Black Elk Energy, Seahawk Drilling, Bisso Marine and others asked a federal judge to rule that BP is liable for the damages despite the three-month deep-water drilling moratorium. They said the oil-field services firms will prove they suffered losses due to the oil spill.

Many of the oil-field service firms that sued BP for financial damages in the wake of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill were left out of an estimated $9.2 billion settlement that BP reached in 2012 with thousands of claimants.

BP has maintained it isn’t liable for the oil-field service firms’ financial damages because their losses occurred during the drilling moratorium. The British oil giant and plaintiffs’ attorneys agreed to try seven test cases under the massive multidistrict civil case to determine BP’s liability for those losses under the Oil Pollution Act.

The first trial may begin in July 2015, according to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Damages in the seven test cases could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The spill – either alone or in combination with other factors, including the deep-water moratoria and other material slow-downs and changes in deep-water and shallow-water permitting – caused or contributed to a loss of profit” for the test-case plaintiffs, the attorneys wrote late Monday.

They argued that the Oil Pollution Act “does away with” concepts of “superseding” causes for financial losses, such as the federal government’s drilling moratorium.

“To the extent that BP attempts to escape liability by alleging that the damages were caused by the ‘fault’ of the U.S. government, … neither OPA nor the general maritime law allows for the quantification of fault against an immune or absent third party,” they wrote.

BP officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

London-based BP has paid out $3.98 billion to claimants under its 2012 settlement, but recently asked for restitution on some “erroneous” payments it made after Barbier changed a certain accounting policy.