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Oil-Spill panel co-chair: Others implicated, but BP ‘centrally responsible’

Marian WangProPublica

When the first official findings [1] from the presidential oil-spill panel were released this week, BP saw an early jump [2] ($) in its stock prices. According to the panel’s co-chair, that market reaction was premature [3]. Here’s what co-chairman William Reilly told Bloomberg:

“The centrally responsible company in the Macondo blowout was the operator, BP. There are other companies who are implicated. We are very clear about that. Most of the bad decisions, however, were made by BP or with BP’s approval and acceptance.”

One aspect of the findings may strike ProPublica readers as familiar. We’d written about a document that had been accidentally posted months earlier [5], and a new version of that document showed up in the official findings. The latest version charted nine cases in which the decisions made regarding the well were riskier than alternatives [1]. In most cases, the riskier option took less time than the safer alternative. BP was the primary decision-maker in seven of those nine instances.

Others interpreted the findings differently. BP spokesman Scott Dean told Bloomberg that the panel's account supports BP’s conclusions that the incident had “multiple causes, involving multiple companies.”

And a former Justice Department prosecutor [6] told the Houston Chronicle that the report made “gross negligence” seem less likely:

‘Gross negligence’ does not come screaming off the pages of the presidential report,” said  David Uhlmann, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes unit who now teaches law at the University of Michigan.

“They describe systemic failures, mistakes, poor judgment, but they don’t describe an attitude of gross deviation from standards of reasonable care usually associated with gross negligence,” Uhlmann said.

A finding of gross negligence, as we’ve noted, could nearly quadruple the fines [7] that BP would have to pay under the Clean Water Act and might nudge regulators to debar the company [8]. It also would release BP’s junior partners in the well -- Anadarko and MOEX Offshore -- from any obligations to share liability [9] and cover damages or cleanup costs.

The panel’s new chapter is the first part of its official account to be released after months of investigating and releasing working papers with only preliminary findings. Take a look [1]—we’ve highlighted a few parts we found interesting. The full report is scheduled to be released next week [10].

This article was originally published by ProPublica and is republished here with permission.