BP, Anadarko ruled liable for pollution law violations

BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. are liable for Clean Water Act violations, a judge ruled, allowing the U.S. to seek fines of as much as $1,100 per barrel spilled in the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010.

BP and Anadarko, partners in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project, are responsible by law for polluting the water because they owned the  Macondo well project, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans said Wednesday. The ruling allows the government to seek fines without having to prove the issue of liability at trial.

Transocean, the Switzerland-based owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded, can’t be held liable for Clean Water Act violations yet, Barbier wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. The issue has to be determined at trial.

“BP and Anadarko are liable for civil penalties under the act because they are both owners of the offshore facility from which oil discharged,”  Barbier said.

“There are disputed facts as to whether Transocean meets” the definition of an operator of the offshore facility, Barbier said. “Accordingly, the court cannot resolve this issue on summary judgment.”

The Justice Department asked Barbier to find the companies violated the Clean Water Act on the basis of so-called strict liability because they were operators of the doomed project. Strict liability is a legal term for automatic responsibility.

Barbier, who’s overseeing much of the spill litigation, has scheduled a nonjury trial to start Monday to determine liability and apportion fault for the disaster. He will also determine whether any defendants were grossly negligent, which would leave the companies subject to enhanced fines under the Clean Water Act.