DoJ: Fine Transocean $1B

Friday, February 8, 2013 @ 02:02 PM gHale

Monetary penalties are really starting to roll almost three years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as the U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge to approve a $1 billion fine against Transocean, the owner of the ill-fated drilling rig, for violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

This request comes shortly before Transocean should appear before a second federal judge to plead guilty to criminal charges in the case, which will result in another $400 million in penalties.

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In arguing in favor of the $1 billion fine, the Justice motion said it would be the largest civil penalty ever levied under the Clean Water Act, with 80 percent of the money to go toward coastal and economic restoration projects along the Gulf of Mexico, under the RESTORE Act approved by Congress last year.

Transocean could still be liable for additional payments under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process of the Oil Pollution Act, and as a result of future court actions, the motion said.

The Justice Department motion said they can justify the large fine because “the seriousness of the violation cannot be disputed.”

“Above all, 11 men died, many people were injured, and never before was so much oil discharged into the waters of the United States causing significant harm to the environment and natural resources of the Gulf,” the motion said.

The motion argues Transocean played a significant role in causing the blowout, explosion and oil spill. “The Transocean defendants fell short in a number of operational areas, including maintenance of safety-critical equipment, effective monitoring of well conditions, and well control,” it said.

The civil case portion of the settlement agreement also means the avoidance of a time-consuming and costly trial, the motion said. The motion also recognized U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier already indicated Transocean played a lesser role in causing the accident and had less to gain financially than well owner BP and its financial partner Anadarko.

A hearing on Transocean’s plea to a single criminal misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act is on tap for Feb. 14 before U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.

The $400 million Transocean agreed to pay under the criminal portion of the settlement includes $100 million to go to the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement for improvement of offshore drilling safety, $150 million to be paid to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation for coastal restoration projects, including restoration of barrier islands and wetlands in Louisiana, and $150 million to the National Academy of Sciences for a 30-year program already financed with BP fine money that will pay for scientific studies, projects and activities focused on environmental protection and human health in the Gulf of Mexico.

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