BP, Transocean, Anadarko sued by feds; Halliburton not named

The Justice Department has sued BP and eight other companies in connection with the Gulf oil spill but has left Houston-based Halliburton out of the mix.

The civil lawsuit asks that the eight companies be held liable without limitation for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. They include BP, Anadarko, Transocean, Moex (a division of Mitsui) and two related entities and QBE underwriting (a division of Lloyd’s of London that insures Transocean).

Halliburton, which completed cementing work at the site, is not named. But the government left open the possibility Halliburton and its subsidiaries could be named as defendants later.

“It is conceivable that as time passes and evidence is developed that additional entities will be added to the complaint,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a Washington, D.C. press conference.

The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.

The suit alleges the companies failed to take the necessary precautions to secure BP’s Macondo well before it blew out, failed to use the safest technology to monitor conditions and failed to use all available equipment to ensure the environment and workers were protected.

“These violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill and the defendants therefore are responsible  . . .  for government removal costs (and) economic penalties,” Holder said.

Holder said the civil suit isn’t a “final step,” adding that civil and criminal investigations are still underway.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Holder said. “The American people — especially the people of the Gulf Coast — deserve nothing less.”

The civil investigation also is being handled by the EPA, Coast Guard, NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and led to oil spewing from the company’s undersea well — more than 200 million gallons in all, by the government’s estimate. BP disputes the figure.

The civil suit gives the government legal team access to depositions of witnesses that are expected to begin on Jan. 18 in New Orleans and possibly Houston.

District Court Judge Carl Barbier told prosecutors previously they needed to file a complaint if they wanted to take part in the depositions. Wednesday is the deadline for complaints in the case.

BP could face penalties of $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, meaning fines could range from $4.5 billion to $21 billion based on an estimated 4.9 million barrels spilled. It is unclear whether any costs related to the lawsuit would come out of the $20 billion spill fund BP agreed to establish under White House pressure this summer.

The federal criminal investigation is being led by Howard Stewart, a veteran of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Unit. His group has leased an entire floor of a downtown New Orleans office building right around the corner from the federal courthouse there.

A number of attorneys close to the case have said previously their clients have been contacted for interviews by members of the criminal team — which includes investigators from the Justice Department, the FBI, the criminal arm of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.

The full filing from the Justice Department is after the jump.