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Topics: Unlike BP, Transocean likely off the hook for felony charges related to workers' deaths in 2010 Gulf spill, Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill, BP asks Halliburton to talk about Deepwater Horizon accident, Oiled pelican photo in "HOLD BP ACCOUNTABLE" ad greets Justice employees at Washington Metro station, Final Approval of BP Settlement Triggers Deadlines, Safe harbor, uncertain future for Shell's Arctic rig Fuel Fix » Federal probe into Shell accident could slow Arctic drilling progress

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Transocean was every bit as responsible for the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo catastrophe as BP. It is shameful that DOJ settled with them without filing criminal charges involving jail time. The cynical quote from Dean Logan sharply illustrates the point—no jail time, no deterrent. To add insult to injury the money comes out of shareholders' rather than executives' pockets.

Professor Uhlman has commented frequently on the legal proceedings and this is the first time I recall him being critical of DOJ, his former employer. I find it incomprehensible that DOJ let Transocean off the criminal hook for so little in return.

Sadly, there is no justice in this settlement. I can't help wondering how the families of the 11 men who were killed must feel about it.

Unlike BP, Transocean likely off the hook for felony charges related to workers' deaths in 2010 Gulf spill

January 04, 2013 at 6:35 PM, updated January 04, 2013 at 11:18 PM

Like their counterparts at BP, executives at Transocean Ltd. are likely breathing easier with the looming unknowns of civil and criminal fines and penalties now settled for their role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, legal experts and industry analysts following the case generally agreed Friday.

"It has to be an enormous relief for both companies to have the feds off their backs and to have closure from Transocean's point of view, on the real danger of criminal charges hitting them in a more significant way," said David Logan, the law school dean at Roger Williams University.

"That's the scariest thing," Logan said about the prospect of company officials facing criminal charges. "Otherwise, it's just money. A lot of money, but it's just money."

Transocean, the Switzerland-based owner of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig that was leased to BP when its Macondo well erupted off the Louisiana coast in April 2010, has agreed to plead guilty and pay $1 billion to resolve federal Clean Water Act civil penalty claims and another $400 million in criminal fines and penalties for federal offshore drilling safety violations in the events leading to the Gulf spill, the company and the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.

But unlike BP, Transocean will not be required to plead guilty to felony counts of misconduct, essentially manslaughter charges, relating to the deaths of the 11 rig workers killed in the disaster, a move that was "somewhat surprising" to some observers, including David Uhlmann, the former head of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section and a law professor at the University of Michigan.

"It would have made sense to insist that Transocean plead guilty to those charges as well, and it's another aspect of the criminal deal that is surprising," Uhlmann said Thursday.

Nearly two years ago, a presidential commission reported that BP, Halliburton and Transocean were each responsible for cost-cutting decisions that created an unacceptable risk at the well, citing a series of systematic problems and not pointing fault of any one individual.

A BP spokesman declined comment Friday on whether the company believes Transocean should have also been forced to plead guilty for the deaths of the rig workers. A Justice Department spokesman declined comment when asked how that decision was reached.

"I thought that was a little curious, because it seemed to me that there was substantial evidence against them," said Edward Sherman, a law professor at Tulane University who studies complex litigation.

It seems that the Gulf comes out the loser despite fines. It's doubtful that the $1 billion set aside to repair the environmental damage will be much more than a drop in the bucket of what will be needed to restore the Gulf's to some semblance of pre-spill conditions. Any critical marsh/wetlands restoration is likely to involve very high labor costs and there is a ton of it to do.

While I suppose inspection of blowout preventers is better than nothing the National Academy of Sciences report pretty much said in so many words that such inspections are close to being worthless. New technologies are yet to be developed that would adequately test blowout preventers in anything approaching realistic conditions.

I think we should await evidence to see if anything comes of Transocean's "cooperation" agreement with Justice. They are in a position to push fairly hard for Transocean to cough up incriminating evidence against Transocean's partners in crime.

Hopefully, enough information will come out so we might be able to guess as to why so many higher ups on the rig acted like total and complete fools in their supervision duties given the fact that their lives were at risk as well as that of the workers. It's human nature to heavily discount future risk but a beginning driller should have understood that the Macondo was repeatedly shouting to everyone that she was fixing to blow immediately.

I'm also dismayed that the National Academy of Sciences ended up getting so little money. If it wasn't for them squeaking what little they could find out of their painfully small budget there would have been no scientists at all doing work early on in the spill. I continue to weep at how much critical knowledge was lost because, as great as the scientists were who did the early work, their numbers were sorrowfully paltry.

Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill

January 03, 2013 at 12:28 PM, updated January 03, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that was drilling the BP Macondo well when it caught fire and sank off the Louisiana coast in 2010, beginning the nation's largest oil spill, has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines to settle violations of the Clean Water Act and federal offshore drilling safety regulations, the company and the U.S. Justice Department announced today.

"Defendant Transocean, along with BP, had a duty to maintain well control," said the  bill of information filed in federal court outlining the criminal charge. "Entailed in this duty were responsibilities relating to conducting safe drilling and rig operations, ensuring the safety of personnel onboard and preventing accidents which could impact the environment."

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing the settlement, the company said that in return for the plea agreement and cooperation with its ongoing criminal and civil investigations, the Justice Department has agreed "not to further prosecute Transocean Ltd. and related Transocean entities for certain conduct generally regarding matters under investigation by the DOJ's Deepwater Horizon Task Force"

In a news release, Transocean said the settlement does not cover any company liability issues involving payment of costs under the Oil Pollution Act's Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. But the company said an earlier ruling by Barbier shields Transocean from any liability under the damage assessment process.

The settlement sets aside $1 billion for Clean Water Act fines, of which 80 percent would be directed to projects aimed at alleviating effects of the spill under the federal RESTORE Act. Louisiana is likely to receive a significant percentage of the Clean Water Act fine money, as well, under the provisions of the Restore Act.

Transocean will pay a $400 million criminal fine for the safety violations, with $100 million to be used by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Managment 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.

As part of the agreement, Transocean Deepwater Inc. signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government, admitting criminal conduct. The civil fines will be paid by Transocean's related companies, including Transocean Ocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc., and Triton Asset Leasing GMBH.

The settlement also requires the companies to implement court-enforceable measures to improve their operational safety and ability to respond to emergencies at all their drilling rigs in U.S. waters.
According to the Justice news release, in agreeing to plead guilty, Transocean Deepwater Inc. has admitted that members of its crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon, acting at the direction of BP's "Well Site Leaders" or "company men," were negligent in failing fully to investigate clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well.

That admission is likely to be used during the trial -- if BP does not settle its own remaining Clean Water Act and safety claims before the trial begins.

The safety restrictions required under the agreement include certifications of maintenance and repair of blowout preventers before each new drilling job, and personnel training related to spills and spill response. The Macondo well spill is in part believed to be the result of failures of the blowout preventer to stop the flow of oil once the Deepwater Horizon rig a mile above it caught fire and sank

The kindergarten finger pointing is hardly a surprise. However, BP is correct in their accusations against Halliburton although they pointedly overlook the fact that BP fell woefully short in their responsibilities to adequately supervise the cementing of the Macondo.

In this case BP failed in supervising Drilling 101 problems. Unfortunately, deepwater drilling poses such enormous technical challenges that it is simply not possible for all the expertise needed for adequate supervision to reside in-house with any single company and is beyond the scope of the government to adequately regulate even if they were truly inclined to do so—something which is highly doubtful.

When no one entity can be held accountable, no one at all ends up being accountable. Without a regulatory framework that addresses this reality of deepwater drilling we will continue to see serious drilling tragedies. h/t Yasuragi
BP asks Halliburton to talk about Deepwater Horizon accident

Jan. 4, 2013 at 8:49 AM

HOUSTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- British energy company BP accused oil services company Halliburton of skirting its responsibilities in the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean Deepwater Inc., owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, leased to BP, agreed to pay more than $1 billion in fines and penalties for the BP oil spill, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday. The company agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges, paying $400 million in fines, as well as another $1 billion in civil penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Around 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico before a capping system plugged the leaking well in late 2010. The explosion that razed the rig left 11 workers dead and 17 others injured.

BP, in a statement, said the Transocean settlement shows the company played a major role in the disaster.

"Transocean is finally starting, more than two-and-a-half years after the accident, to do its part for the Gulf Coast," the company said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Halliburton continues to deny its significant role in the accident, including its failure to adequately cement and monitor the well."

BP last year claimed Halliburton destroyed test results regarding cement used to seal the Macondo well beneath the rig. Halliburton said the charges are baseless.

There was no public comment from Halliburton on the Transocean settlement. Transocean said the settlement agreements "remove much of the uncertainty associated with the accident."

BP in November agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges stemming from the accident as well as to $4 billion in fines and penalties.

More's the pity the ad didn't go up before DOJ's ridiculous settlement with Transocean. Hopefully, it might serve as a reminder to DOJ officials of their responsibilities to BP's victims.
Oiled pelican photo in "HOLD BP ACCOUNTABLE" ad greets Justice employees at Washington Metro station
January 07, 2013 at 11:40 AM, updated January 07, 2013 at 1:42 PM

A photo of a struggling pelican coated with oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico now greets workers arriving at the Navy Archives Metro station, close to the Department of Justice's Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters building. The photo is part of a National Wildlife Federation advertising placard demanding "HOLD BP ACCOUNTABLE."

They've been placed at the station just weeks before the Feb. 25 beginning of the first phase of a federal trial that will determine the size of fines BP will face for violating the federal Clean Water Act. But they're also aimed at urging Justice officials not to reduce the amount BP should be fined, if a settlement is reached before trail.

“Americans from all walks of life reeled in horror as BP’s negligence sent more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Aileo Weinmann, associate communications director for the National Wildlife Federation, in a news release announcing the new ad campaign. “We’re sending a signal to staff at the Department of Justice to hold BP fully accountable for up to $50 billion in civil fines and penalties.

“These Metro ads are a cost-effective way to press Department of Justice staff about the proper size of any BP settlement,” Weinmann said. “We used the famous AP/Charlie Riedel photo of an oiled pelican because it is such a distressing image that we knew it would be hard to ignore.”

The ad also includes a link to a page on the federation's web site that allows people to send their own written message to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder requesting BP be held fully accountable.

Final Approval of BP Settlement Triggers Deadlines
The deadline for claims for damages suffered from BP's black monster is fast approaching. I worry that many of the substance fishers will not understanding their legal options and end up holding the very short end of the stick although I sure hope I'm wrong.

January 08, 2013 12:12 PM

As you may be already be aware, the BP Economic and Property Damages Settlement was granted final approval at the end of December.
Of course, the Settlement Program has now actually been operating for over seven months, receiving and processing claims and making Settlement offers. Final court approval of the Settlement does not change those procedures. It does, however, trigger some important new deadlines to which claimants and their representatives should be alert. Most urgently for now are the following deadlines:

January 22, 2013 (this month!) is the deadline to file a claim under the Seafood Compensation Program. This includes all commercial fishermen, including boat captains and seafood crew but not charter boat captains. This deadline is very quickly approaching, so if you think it applies to you, now is the time to take action.

Other claimants have a significantly longer timeframe in which to submit their claims. For claimants who have been paid by the claims administrator, additional claims must be filed within 180 days of their payment. For claimants who have not been paid by the claims administrator, the deadline for filing claims is April 22, 2014.

January 22, 2013 is also the deadline for appealing the District Court’s Final Approval Order. ...But class members who previously objected to the Settlement and now wish to appeal have only a couple more weeks to do so.

The environment dodged a bullet as Shell and a small army finally got the Kulluk to safe harbor without any sort of spill. I wonder how many times Mother Nature has to send cranky messages that she is going to beat the tar out of anyone with the chutzpah to think they can stand up to her in the arctic seas with their puny man-made toys. In their arrogance, big oil and our government continue to blissfully ignore these warnings.

Anyone who thinks Arctic drilling is a dandy idea ought to catch a few episodes of Deadliest Catch. Two of my uncles worked on the Alaska pipeline. They had endless tales of perils from suffering Mother Nature's wrath and they were in vastly more friendly conditions on land. Pure evil seems to be the default condition for Arctic oceans.
Safe harbor, uncertain future for Shell's Arctic rig

January 7, 2013 | Updated: January 7, 2013 11:01pm

WASHINGTON - A massive campaign to free a grounded Arctic drilling rig that involved more than a dozen ships and some 730 people cleared a big hurdle Monday, as salvagers pulled the vessel to safe harbor in Alaska.

Salvage crews anchored the Kulluk rig in Kodiak Island's sheltered Kiliuda Bay, where it arrived Monday morning. Three support vessels remained attached to the Kulluk.

For Shell, which owns the 266-foot conical drilling unit and planned to use it to continue a $5 billion quest for Arctic oil this summer, the work is just beginning.

There were no signs of leaking fuel from the rig during its 45-mile voyage from Sitkalidak Island, but 150,000 gallons of diesel and other petroleum liquids are on board.

The Kulluk beached along Sitkalidak Island on New Year's Eve, after a five-day fight to tow the rig to safe harbor amid four-story waves and 70-mph winds. Shell had been using its chartered anchor-handling vessel, Aiviq, to pull the unpropelled conical drilling rig across the Gulf of Alaska when the tow line broke and the Aiviq's four engines malfunctioned on Dec. 27.

It appears major environmental damage has been averted in an area that is home to sea otters and sea lions. Workers trailing the Kulluk in the predawn darkness used infrared equipment to monitor the rig and saw no signs of leaking fuel, officials said.

"They conducted monitoring along the entire route with no evidence of pollution," Russell said.

But workers still have to retrieve the Kulluk's fuel-filled lifeboats, which were swept from the grounded rig.

Mehler pledged to conduct a complete "shoreline assessment and cleanup to ensure this response leaves no footprint on Alaska's environment."

Environmentalists said the episode should prompt federal regulators to reassess Shell's Arctic drilling plans.

"We were lucky the accident happened close to Coast Guard facilities. We were lucky the weather allowed for salvage. And we were lucky an accident like this did not happen while the Kulluk was drilling," said Susan Murray, Pacific deputy vice president of the conservation group Oceana. "However, Alaskan waters demand more than luck."

It is not yet known whether the Kulluk can be repaired in time for drilling this summer, even if regulators allow it.

If the Kulluk is sidelined, Shell could seek to salvage some of its planned 2013 season by resuming "top-hole drilling," which doesn't penetrate zones that could contain oil and gas.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has a longstanding reputation as an industry-captive agency and the Coast Guard's behavior during the BP crises indicates that they have joined them. No doubt the length of the investigations will be governed by the time it takes for them to come up with some sort of tortured logic to justify Arctic drilling.

I'll believe the administrations is serious about investigating the practical feasibility of Arctic drilling when they assign studies to the National Science Foundation and the Chemical Safety Board and give them the money to do a thorough job.

Salazar continues to be unashamed for publicly playing industry lapdog.
Fuel Fix » Federal probe into Shell accident could slow Arctic drilling progress

January 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

The Obama administration ordered a broad review of Shell’s Arctic drilling program on Tuesday, following a series of mishaps that culminated when the company’s Kulluk rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve.

Shell’s Kulluk conical drilling unit collided with the rocky shore of Alaska’ Sitkalidak Island on Dec. 31, following a five-day battle to tow the unpropelled rig to safe harbor amid 70-mph winds and waves that climbed four-stories high. Shell had been towing the 266-foot floating rig to a Seattle shipyard two months after it finished boring the first half of an exploratory oil well in the Beaufort Sea. On Monday, salvage teams successfully pulled it to sheltered Kiliuda Bay for further assessments.

The Interior Department said the “expedited, high-level assessment” of Shell’s 2012 Arctic drilling program is expected to be completed within 60 days. The probe was set to focus on the Kulluk accident as well as other setbacks, including why the drillship Noble Discoverer briefly drifted out of control near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, last year, and the failure of Shell’s one-of-a-kind oil spill containment system during a deployment test last September.

“The administration is fully committed to exploring for potential energy resources in frontier areas such as the Arctic,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in announcing the move. “Exploration allows us to better comprehend the true scope of our resources in the Arctic and to more fully understand the nature of the risks and benefits of development in this region, but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny.”

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management into the Kulluk’s grounding.

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!
Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:
12-18-12 05:59 PM Gulf Watchers Tuesday - Survey Says...Well, Nothing Yet.. - BP Catastrophe AUV #602 Lorinda Pike
11-27-12 04:30 PM Gulf Watchers Tues. - $2.4 billion of BP settlement to Repub founded group - BP Catastrophe AUV #601 peraspera
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