The Oenga family of Barrow have had a long-running dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Inupiat Eskimo family filed a lawsuit in 2005, charging the BIA wrongly allowed BP and the British oil producer's partners to expand their use of the family's North Slope land without its permission to access their Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
The Oengas had authorized access to only one oil field, but the BIA allowed access to three, the plaintiffs said.
Judge Nancy Firestone of the Court of Federal Claims in Washington heard evidence last year and ruled in the Oengas' favor Tuesday, setting damages owed by the government at $4.9 million, her order shows.
"Even when the Oengas specifically asked the BIA to take action, it refused to tell BP to stop the unauthorized use and refused to collect additional rents from BP for the authorized use," the Anchorage Daily News quoted Ray Givens, the Oengas' lawyer, as saying in a statement.
Steve Rinehart, a spokesman for BP, told United Press International Wednesday night the company and its partners who were intervenor defendants in the case, including ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Forest Oil Corp., anticipate having a discussion with the government about sharing the cost of the judgment.
Rinehart said BP is reviewing the matter to determine its best course forward. He said an appeal is one option but that decision had not yet been made.