Paul Gutermann Comments on Ruling Against BP in Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Akin Gump environment and natural resources partner Paul Gutermann is quoted in the International Bar Association article “BP found grossly negligent over Deepwater.”

As the article reports, British Petroleum, in early September, was apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A federal judge concluded the company was grossly negligent and engaged in willful misconduct, which carries a maximum penalty of $4300 per barrel, paving the way for possibly $18 billion in penalties. That’s on top of the $43 billion already paid out or accounted for.

Gutermann said the judge “recited a significant amount of evidence to support the finding of gross negligence,” and an American company would have been treated “in exactly the same way.” He added that this is what Congress envisioned when it passed amendments to the Clean Water Act, one of the oldest environmental statutes in the United States. The penalties for gross negligence were amended to levy a steeper penalty per barrel following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.

As for the exact amount to be levied against BP, Gutermann said there are a variety of factors to be taken into consideration. Among them, the seriousness of the spillage, the degree of culpability and any other penalties levied for the same incident. The court is also permitting evidence of previous environmental violations committed by BP. With this in mind, Gutermann said, “I would imagine that BP is going to focus on its efforts to set up the fund for the victims and remediate conditions to the Gulf.”