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US judge rules BP "grossly negligent" on run up to oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

Millions of gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from a BP oil well

Aerial images of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill taken from a US Coast Guard HC-144 aircraft.

5 September 2014

A US judge has ruled that oil giant BP was "grossly negligent" in the run-up to the Gulf of Mexico disaster where millions of gallons of crude were released into the Gulf after the well blew triggering an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
 
The ruling by Louisiana district judge Carl Barbier could see BP facing costs of $17.6 billion US dollars in civil fines under the Clean Water Act.
 
The ruling comes only a month before BP are in the UK Courts facing claims of environmental damage in Colombia.
 
73 mostly peasant farmers (campesinos), claim that the British company Equion Energia (formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) Limited, or BPXC) negligently managed the construction of the OCENSA oil pipeline in the mid 1990s causing serious damage to their land which has never been recognised or compensated by Equion.
 
In 2010 BPXC changed its name to Equion after BP sold off its shares in BPXC.
 
The farmers’ claims will be heard from 2nd October 2014 in the UK’s Technology and Construction Court, in a case expected to last approximately 4 months.
 
The OCENSA oil pipeline was a project undertaken by BP in the mid 1990s in partnership with Colombia’s national oil company and four other multinational companies after BP discovered more crude oil in the Cusiana-Cupiagua oil fields.
 
BPXC entered into contracts with the farmers to lay the pipeline through their private land. The farmers claim that the construction of the OCENSA pipeline has caused severe soil erosion, blocked up vital water sources, affected soil quality, vegetation coverage and areas for pasture and thereby significantly reducing their ability to conduct traditional farming activities.
 
This business related human right case involving compensation for environmental damage caused by a British  oil company to privately owned land outside the UK is  believed to be the first of its kind to be tried before a British judge in the UK courts. The trial will also be ground breaking given the challenges in bringing legal actions against large multinational companies for acts committed abroad.
 
Shubhaa Srinivasan, the partner at Leigh Day representing the farmers, said: "Findings of gross negligence and wilful misconduct are alarming and raise very significant concerns regarding BP's risk management strategy across its global operations and how much the company truly values human lives and the environment. 
 
"The US decision comes weeks before the start of trial of the negligence claims brought by peasant Colombian farmers due to be heard in London. Unlike the victims of the Deepwater disaster the Colombian farmers contend their voices have not been heard by the oil company. They hope now is their chance to get a fair hearing and to tell their story. The farmers intend to travel to London to attend trial."

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