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Gulf spill costs reach $450 million

May 13, 2010 at 4:49 PM   |   Comments

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NEW ORLEANS, May 13 (UPI) -- The Swiss firm that operated the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil rig for BP went to federal court in Houston Thursday in an attempt to limit its liability.

The Wall Street Journal reported Transocean Ltd. cites a 19th century law in its petition filed in U.S. District Court in Houston to limit its financial exposure to $27 million in the April 20 explosion that sent the oil rig to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and leaving 5,000 barrels of crude oil flowing into the water daily since.

The Journal said BP, the British oil giant that had leased the oil rig from Transocean, Thursday pegged the costs arising from the disaster so far at $450 million, with the total mounting daily as the spill flows toward U.S. Gulf Coast.

"One of the primary goals of this filing is to consolidate in a single court many of the lawsuits that have been filed ... to initiate an orderly process for these lawsuits and claims before a single, impartial federal judge," Transocean said in a statement.

The company said in its court filing the disaster was "not caused or contributed to, done, occasioned and/or incurred by any fault, negligence, unseaworthiness, or lack of due care on the part of the petitioners, or anyone for whom petitioners are or at any material time were responsible."

The company added it was taking the step at the prodding of its insurers. Scores of lawsuits have been filed in the accident, the newspaper said.

The White House is asking Congress for $10 million so the government can fight any claims arising from the disaster, the Journal said.

Meanwhile, BP spokesman Jon Pack said a smaller containment dome would be in place in the "next few days," which "could get into next week."

"Things are fairly fluid," he said.

McClatchy Newspapers reported Thursday federal investigators likely would file criminal charges against at least one of the companies involved in the spill, raising the likelihood of significantly higher penalties than the current $75 million cap on civil liability.

The investigation by the Homeland Security and Interior departments into the spill is in an early phase and officials haven't confirmed whether a criminal investigation has begun. However, environmental law experts said it is highly probable Justice Department would initiate a criminal inquiry and take punitive action if it hasn't done so already, McClatchy reported.

"There is no question there'll be an enforcement action," said David Uhlmann, who led the Justice Department's environmental crimes section during the administrations of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "And, it's very likely that there will be at least some criminal charges brought."

President Barack Obama proposed a package Wednesday that would provide at least $58 million in additional funding for oil spill relief efforts and raise the tax oil companies pay to maintain an emergency fund, CNN reported.

Louisiana officials said they haven't received their fair share of boom to protect the state's shoreline from the oil slick, the Houston Chronicle reported. So far, more than 225 miles of floating barriers have been deployed to try to keep oil from reaching fragile areas.

The latest Coast Guard estimates indicate Mississippi has more boom in place, and that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi combined have twice as much boom on hand as Louisiana.

However, Louisiana's supply is greater than the 760,000 feet of boom state officials said they would need to need in a response plan issued 11 days ago, the Chronicle said.

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