In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the United States alleged violations of federal safety and operational regulations played a role in the months-long oil spill that began April 20 with an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, the Justice Department said in a release. Eleven workers died in the explosion.
The lawsuit will become part of a multi-district legal action before Judge Carl Barbier in federal court in New Orleans, the Justice Department said.
"We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses and environmental damages without limitation," Holder said when announcing the lawsuit. "Even though the spill has been contained, the department's focus on investigating this disaster and preventing future devastation has not wavered."
He said the department's civil and criminal investigations remained under way.
The Macondo well operated by BP discharged more than 200 millions of gallons of oil into the gulf before it was capped in mid-July.
"This is welcome and long overdue news to the fishermen and others who depend upon the Gulf of Mexico for their lives and livelihoods," Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization, said in a statement.
Besides BP, the lawsuit names as defendants, Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH, Transocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., and Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and BP's insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd.-Lloyd's Syndicate 1036.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated key safety and operating regulations in the run-up to the spill, including failure to take necessary precautions to keep the well under control in the period leading up to the explosion, and failure to use and maintain equipment and material to ensure the safety of the personnel and the protection of the environment.
The complaint also claimed civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which bars the unauthorized discharge of oil into U.S. waters, the department said. The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated the act during the months that oil gushed into the gulf.