Washington: The United States filed suit for the first time against BP and eight other companies for uncounted billions of dollars in damages from a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in US history.
The complaint was filed by the Justice Department with a federal court in New Orleans, where thousands of individuals and small businesses have already sued the oil giant.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the complaint alleges that "violations of safety and operational regulations" caused the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which sent nearly five million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf.
"We intend to prove... that the defendants are therefore responsible under the Oil Pollution Act for government removal losses, economic losses, as well as environmental damages," he said.
"We`re also seeking civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which prohibits the unauthorised use of oil in the waters," he added.
Holder went on to list a series of failures that led to the disaster.
He said necessary precautions weren`t taken to secure the well, the safest drilling technology was not used to monitor its condition, continuous surveillance was not maintained and safety equipment was faulty.
The defendants named in the suit were BP Exploration and Production Inc; Transocean Deepwater Inc; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc; Transocean Holdings LLC; Anadarko Exploration and Production LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; and QBE Underwriting Ltd/Lloyd`s syndicate 1036.
QBE/Lloyd`s, an insurer, was not being sued under the Clean Water Act and can be held liable only up to the amount of Transocean`s insurance policy coverage, the Justice Department said.
BP said in a statement that it would "answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries."
The world`s third largest oil company has defended its response to the spill, which has included selling off assets around the world to raise USD 30 billion to cover both clean-up and compensation costs.
It has estimated its exposure at nearly USD 40 billion.
"Alone among the parties, BP has stepped up to pay for the clean-up of the oil, setting aside USD 20 billion to pay all legitimate claims," the company said.
"We took these steps before any legal determination of responsibility and will continue to fulfil our commitments in the Gulf as the legal process unfolds."
BP owns 65 percent of the ruptured Macondo well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp owns a 25 percent share, and MOEX Offshore, a unit of Mitsui Oil Exploration Co, owns 10 percent. Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig itself.
Justice Department lawyers have been conducting parallel civil and criminal investigations since the fiery explosion, which killed 11 workers and toppled the giant rig into Gulf of Mexico.
The rig`s collapse ruptured underwater risers, unleashing a torrent of oil that fouled environmentally fragile Gulf coasts and disrupted local fishing and tourism industries for three months before it was sealed in September.
Among the losses listed in the US complaint were "hundreds of miles of coastal habitats, including salt marshes, sandy beaches, and mangroves; a variety of wildlife, including birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals."