Experts say criminal charges ‘just a matter of time.’
BP officials finally made an underwater video of its broken well gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, after being pressured to do so by media outlets and the White House, and then claiming they hadn’t received requests for the footage.
Also, while government agencies continue to examine what led to the oil rig explosion that killed 11 people, environmental legal experts are already predicting that there will be criminal charges ahead for at least one of the companies involved in the oil spill.
A House energy panel looking into what might have caused the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico found yesterday that a vital piece of equipment intended to prevent such disasters had significant problems.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Wednesday outlined issues with the blowout preventer, a tool that BP claimed was ‘fail safe,’ that may have prevented it from engaging. The blowout preventer, reports the Washington Post, “Had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe and stop the flow of oil.”
It was also revealed during the hearing that BP knew ‘hours’ ahead of the deadly explosion that there were problems with the oil well. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), said “The oil company told the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight privately that the well failed a key pressure test just hours before it exploded on April 20,” reports CNN:
The test indicated pressure was building up in the well, which could indicate oil or gas was seeping in and could lead to an explosion, said Waxman.
“Yet it appears the companies did not suspend operations, and now 11 workers are dead and the Gulf faces an environmental catastrophe,” he said, asking why work wasn’t stopped on the well.
On stemming the flow of oil into the Gulf, BP reported that it could take through the summer to finish a ‘relief’ well being drilled to shut down the flow. It is estimated that if the leak doesn’t worsen, and the relief well is a success, approximately 20 million gallons of oil will have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, “nearly double the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.”
Legal experts are already saying that it’s likely that Federal investigators will file criminal charges related to the oil rig explosion. McClatchy reports:
“There is no question there’ll be an enforcement action,” said David M. Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section for seven years during the Clinton and Bush administrations. “And, it’s very likely that there will be at least some criminal charges brought.”
Such a likelihood has broad legal implications for BP and the two other companies involved Ã¢â‚¬â€ not the least of which is the amount of money any responsible party could be required to pay. The White House is asking Congress to lift the current $75 million cap on liability under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but there’s no cap on criminal penalties. In fact, prosecutors in such cases can seek twice the cost of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill.
One current poll is showing President Obama remains unscathed by the the oil leak in the Gulf, with the majority of the American public approving of his handling of the situation, and agree to press on with off-shore drilling.
BP finally released underwater video footage of the leaking oil well, amid pressure from the White House, and the media:
Twenty-three days after the explosion and under pressure from the White House and the media, BP today finally released a thirty second underwater video of the oil from its broken well spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The video shows the black plume of the oil and a white plume which industry experts said was natural gas escaping into the water.
BP said the video was released only today because the it had not received a request for the video until Monday. In fact, ABC News and other news organizations made numerous requests over the past few weeks for the video. When ABC News reporters were allowed into the BP command center last week, the monitors showing the video had been turned off.
Requests for the video were referred to BP after Coast Guard officials told reporters that the video was the property of BP. BP then retained control of the video, and all images within, under guidelines agreed to by federal officials years ago.
It didn’t take long at all for another version of the video to turn up on YouTube. In an apparent jab at those still supporting off-shore drilling, the calls for ‘Drill, baby, drill!’ are heard throughout. The audio appears to be a portion of the soundtrack from a speech given by Rudy Guiliani during the 2008 Republican National Conference while Senator John McCain and Sarah Palin were campaigning for president and vice-president.
This video is from YouTube, broadcast May 12, 2010, showing oil spewing 5,000 feet down into the Gulf of Mexico.