BP denied access to 21 government Deepwater Horizon documents

A New Orleans magistrate judge has ruled that BP will not have access to 21 documents including confidential White House e-mails during the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan agreed with the U.S. government’s assertion that the documents shouldn’t be made public under the deliberative-process privilege, which protects government policy discussions from public disclosure.

“The Court’s review demonstrates that the emails either do not contain factual material or, where there is factual material, it cannot be separated from the discussion,” Shushan wrote in the decision. “None of the emails contain discrete ‘facts’ which can be redacted and separated from the deliberations.”

The U.S. government and BP are currently in litigation over the extent to which BP will have to assume responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon accident on April 20, 2010, which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers. The government has asserted that it intends to seek gross negligence penalties under the Clean Water Act, which could lead to fines as high as $30 billion. BP is expected to argue that given the government’s involvement in trying to control the spill, it shares in the responsibility for the effectiveness of the response.

BP had asked the New Orleans court to allow it access to these documents, arguing that they may provide essential evidence showing that the government had agreed with BP’s strategy for stopping the oil flow after the Deepwater Horizon accident on April 20, 2010, which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers.

“Although BP has not reviewed the 21 challenged documents, they almost certainly are of central relevance to BP’s defense of the United States’ expected claims for Clean Water Act penalties,” BP wrote in a June 8 letter to Shushan. “The withheld documents regarding static kill might show that the United States considered and agreed with the operation.”

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