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Judge smacks BP by upholding settlement for damages in Gulf oil spill

Boat skims oil from surface after Deepwater Horizon explosion
Boat skims oil from surface after Deepwater Horizon explosion

More than three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and launching the largest, most destructive oil spill in US history, a federal appeals court Friday upheld a multibillion dollar settlement disputed by British Petroleum (BP).

BP objected to the inclusion of businesses and residents who couldn’t directly prove they incurred financial damage from the spill and accused New Orleans US District Judge Carl Barbier and claims administrator Patrick Juneau of “misinterpreting settlement terms,” according to The Associated Press.

The ruling supported plaintiffs' argument that “BP simply undervalued the settlement and underestimated how many claimants would be eligible for payments.”

Attorneys Steve Herman and Jim Roy had this to say about the court’s 48 page decision:

"Today's ruling is an enormous victory for the Gulf, and an important step forward in ensuring that every eligible claimant is fully compensated according to the objective, transparent formulas spelled out in the settlement agreement that BP co-authored and agreed to."

The court’s decision could put a blemish on the public relations campaign started by BP during the summer of 2013, which showed TV ads of smiling people and pristine beaches, with BP’s CEO Bob Dudley boasting, “The Gulf has bounced back really well. And I’d like to think that we played a big role.”

However, environmental groups like National Wildlife Federation refuse to let BP off the hook for the destruction to wildlife caused by the spill. They want to see the company pay penalties in funding designated to restore dolphin habitat, wetlands and shoreline ecosystems.

NOAA officials suspect the death of approximately 1,000 dolphins since April 2010 is a result of the BP oil rig leak that spewed 4.2 million gallons of crude into Gulf waters until the well was declared sealed and dead Sept. 19.

Numerous areas became dead zones, where oil and chemical dispersants sickened or destroyed every living marine creature from microbes and krill to the largest whale at the top of the aquatic food chain. It damaged breeding grounds for blue fin tuna and destroyed habitats for brown pelicans, shell fish, sea birds, dolphins, sea turtles, fish and countless other species.

The Halliburton Corporation already pleaded guilty to destroying evidence in a previous BP-related case. In January 2013, Transocean agreed to pay $1.4 billion in penalties for violating the Clean Water Act.

The BP settlement upheld Friday, which didn’t specify a dollar amount, only scratches the surface of what is being described in terms of a 20-year litigation timetable, similar to the Exxon Valdez.

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