BP Oil Spill: Government Sues, Seeking Billions

The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against BP for Gulf oil spill.

ByABC News
December 15, 2010, 5:12 PM

Dec. 15, 2010— -- The Justice Department filed suit today against BP and eight other companies it says are responsible for this summer's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The government is trying to recover tens of billions of dollars in penalties and damages.

The lawsuit seeks to recoup costs and damages under the Oil Pollution Act and impose additional penalties to the tune of up to $20 billion under the Clean Water Act.

Under the Clean Water Act, the companies can be fined up to $4,300 a barrel. The federal government estimates some 4.9 million barrels spilled into the Gulf following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people.

"We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill," Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

He said the federal government intends to hold the companies "accountable for violations of the law."

The lawsuit says inadequate cement contributed to the disaster, but Halliburton Co., which supplied the cement, is not named in the suit.

Holder said additional defendants, potentially including Halliburton and Cameron International, the manufacturer of the critical blow-out preventer, could still be named in both the civil and criminal suits.

"This is an ongoing process," Holder said.

Department of Justice lawyers and investigators are still working to determine the full extent of damages to businesses, individuals, and the environment, Holder said.

Until a full accounting could be completed, the government would not put a price tag on the total amount of money it is seeking. Officials said the government retains the right to increase the money sought as new information is obtained.

The government alleges the companies failed to failed to take necessary precautions to keep the Mocando Well under control; failed to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well; failed to maintain continuous surveillance of the well; and failed to use and maintain equipment and material that were available to maintain the safety of the well.