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The Breakdown

The Breakdown: BP Found Grossly Negligent by U.S District Judge

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The cleanup of the mess left by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues, four years later.


The News
In a decision reached by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on September 4, BP was found grossly negligent for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. In his ruling, Barbier determined that BP was 67 percent responsible for the incident, while Transocean and Halliburton were 30 percent and 3 percent responsible, respectively. According to government estimates, the oil spill poured 4.9 million barrels of low-sulfur crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

What Does It Mean
There is a legal distinction between gross negligence and simple negligence. By finding BP “grossly negligent,” Judge Barbier opens up BP to higher financial penalties — as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled — for violating the Clean Water Act, to a maximum of $18 billion. Barbier’s ruling apportions the lion’s share of the blame (and the accompanying penalties) for the disaster on BP, which has already paid out $28 billion for other disaster-related costs. The company is being held accountable for its role in the oil spill, and the court’s decision should deter other companies in the industry from operating recklessly. Safety regulations and oversight have been expanded, altered, or discussed in an effort to prevent another disaster from happening.

What You Can Do
As average citizens, we can participate in the political process to impact the oil industry’s safety policies. However, we can effect change more closely with our everyday actions by reducing our personal petroleum consumption. Here are four great ways to cut back on fuel use:

  • Rely on your personal vehicle less. Seventy percent of the oil consumed in America is used for transportation. By utilizing more public or shared transportation, we can reduce our fuel consumption considerably. According to a recent study, if New Yorkers shared cabs, the current fleet of NYC taxis could be reduced by 40 percent. Ride-sharing programs Lyft and Uber are becoming popular in major cities across the U.S., and biking to work is on the rise according the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Stop idling. Your vehicle burns a considerable amount of gasoline in neutral. If you are going to be stopped for more than a few seconds, shut off your engine. This is a great way to reduce your gas usage over time.
  • Purchase goods produced locally. You might not be taking cross-country road trips very often, but your food might be. Choosing locally grown foods and locally produced consumer products means supporting products with smaller transportation emissions.
  • Avoid as many petroleum-based products as possible. Most plastics are derived from petroleum, so try minimizing your use of plastic. Use products made of different materials (such as a canvas reusable shopping bag instead of disposable plastic bags) or at least choose plastic products that are reusable (reusable food storage containers rather than plastic disposable clamshell containers).


BP Ruling
U.S. Census Bureau
Always Well Within
American Energy Independence
New York Times
Center for Offshore Safety
New York Times

Have you recently made a commitment to reduce your oil dependence? What have you changed, and how has it impacted your daily routine?

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About the Author
Morgan West
Morgan West
Morgan West works for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. more
  • Matthew W. 6 years ago
    I have not bought *anything* at BP since the spill. Before the spill, they were always well known as the highest priced gas stations in our entire state. But they also had car washes, so there's that.

    But I have actually driven way out of the way just to get gas at any other station I could find, because we still have to buy gas, and with that being the case, I am at least making sure they don't benefit from it. I encourage others to continue boycotting them, and am surprised some still see no reason to do the same.