Sunday, November 25, 2012

Should Individuals Be Help Accountable For The BP Oil Spill?

Story firm appeared on

Donald J. Vidrine and Robert Kaluza were the two BP supervisors on board the Deepwater Horizon rig who made the last critical decisions before it exploded. David Rainey was a celebrated BP deepwater explorer who testified to members of Congress about how many barrels of oil were spewing daily in the offshore disaster. A Houston Professional Liability Defense Lawyer was watching the case closely.
Mr. Vidrine, 65, of Lafayette, La., and Mr. Kaluza, 62, of Henderson, Nev., were indicted on Thursday on manslaughter charges in the deaths of 11 fellow workers; Mr. Rainey, 58, of Houston, was accused of making false estimates and charged with obstruction of Congress. They are the faces of a renewed effort by the Justice Department to hold executives accountable for their actions. While their lawyers said the men were scapegoats, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference that he hopes that this sends a clear message to those who would engage in this kind of reckless and wanton conduct.
The defense lawyers were adamant that the
ir clients would contest the charges, and prosecutors said that the federal investigations were continuing.
Legal scholars said that by charging individuals, the government was signaling a return to the practice of prosecuting officers and managers, and not just their companies, in industrial accidents, which was more common in the 1980s and 1990s.
She noted that it was unusual for the Justice Department to prosecute individual corporate officers in recent years, including in the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers, where only the company was fined.
BP said on Thursday it would pay$4.5 billion in fines and other payments, and the corporation pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges in connection with spill. The $1.26 billion in criminal fines was the highest sincePfizer in 2009 paid $1.3 billion for illegally marketing an arthritis medication.
The crew was drilling 5,000 feet under the sea floor 41 miles off the Louisiana coast in April 2010 when they lost control of the well during its completion. They tested the pressure of the well, but misinterpreted the test results and underestimated the pressure exerted by the flow of oil or gas up the well. Had the results been properly interpreted, operations would have ceased.
Mr. Vidrine and Mr. Kaluza were negligent in their reading of the kicks of gas popping up from the well that should have suggested that the Deepwater Horizon crew was fast losing control of the ill-fated Macondo well, according to their indictment, and they failed to act or even communicate with their superiors. Despite these ongoing, glaring indications on the drill pipe that the well was not secure, defendants Kaluza and Vidrine again failed to phone engineers onshore to alert them to the problem, and failed to investigate any further.
The indictment said they neglected to account for abnormal pressure test results on the well that indicated problems, accepting “illogical” explanations from members of the crew, which caused the “blowout of the well to later occur.”
In a statement, Mr. Kaluza’s lawyers said: “No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice.”
Bob Habans, a lawyer for Mr. Vidrine, called the charges “a miscarriage of justice.”
Several government and independent reports over the last two years have pointed to sloppy cement jobs in completing the well or the poor design of the well itself as major reasons for the spill. But none of the three was indicted in connection with those problems.
Mr. Rainey was a far more senior executive, one who was known around Houston and the oil world as perhaps the most knowledgeable authority on Gulf oil and gas deposits. According to his indictment, Mr. Rainey obstructed Congressional inquiries and made false statements by underestimating the flow rate to 5,000 barrels a day even as millions were gushing into the Gulf.
 he indictment contended that he relied on a Wikipedia entry for spill-testing methodologies. One method he found produced an estimate of as much as 92,000 barrels a day, but Mr. Rainey withheld that possible estimate, it said.
BP did not rely on Mr. Rainey’s estimates as it plotted various engineering responses to the accident, according to the indictment. Around April 22, 2010, the indictment said, only two days after the accident, BP engineers prepared estimates of potential flow rates that ranged as high as 146,000 barrels a day. A BP team on May 11 estimated a range of 14,000 to 82,000 barrels a day.
But when a university professor publicly released an estimate of 70,000 barrels a day in May 2010, based on video footage of the leak, the indictment said, BP continued to defend the 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate and Mr. Rainey prepared a memo for the unified command handling the disaster justifying the 5,000-barrel estimate. He did not include his own higher possible estimates or others by BP.
In presentations to Congressional committees, Mr. Rainey stuck to his 5,000-barrel estimate, the indictment said, even while he was receiving information that contradicted the figure.
Rainey withheld such information from other BP employees and from BP in-house and outside lawyers with whom he was working, the indictment said.
The charges against Mr. Kaluza and Mr. Vidrine carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison on each “seaman’s manslaughter” count, eight years in prison on each involuntary manslaughter count and a year in prison on a Clean Water Act count.
Mr. Rainey faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. 
In a statement on behalf of Mr. Rainey, his lawyers said: They are profoundly disappointed that the Department of Justice is attempting to turn a tragic accident and its tumultuous aftermath into criminal activity. They are even more disappointed that BP has succumbed to the pressure and agreed to this extortionate settlement. 

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