On April 20, 2010, a massive offshore oil rig known as the Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles from Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Firefighters and the U.S. Coast Guard fought for 2 days to contain the fire, but the rig sank on April 22, releasing nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel into the Gulf waters and creating an unstoppable leak of crude that eventually became the biggest oil disaster the U.S. has ever seen.
The Deepwater Horizon was one of 14 offshore oil rigs owned and operated by Transocean in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was under lease to oil giant BP for exploratory drilling to the tune of $500,000 per day when the explosion occurred. 126 workers – a combined crew of Transocean and BP employees and independent contractors, were aboard the rig at the time of the explosion. Many of the workers suffered from burn injuries, broken bones, and smoke inhalation – 4 of them critically. Eleven workers were killed.
It took four months to seal the well and stop the flow of oil. As a result, the environmental and commercial impact was unprecedented.
The oil contaminated Louisiana’s fragile wetlands. Environmental experts say that as many as 400 species of Gulf wildlife, from whales to birds, were put at risk and the threat to the Gulf ecosystem is inestimable. It may be years before the extent of the damage is truly known.
Commercial fishing and shrimping operations all along the spill area were shut down for months, putting hundreds of fishermen already hard hit by the economy out of work. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as the disaster hit the $21 billion commercial seafood industry just before harvesting season in mid-May.
Other industries affected included shipping, tourism, the restaurant industry, real estate, and commercial fishing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there are 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 24 million fishing trips in 2008. Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than 1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.
In August 2010, cases related to the BP oil spill were consolidated under U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. Beasley Allen attorney Rhon Jones, who heads the firms Environmental Law section, was chosen to help direct litigation as a member of the Plaintiffs Steering Committee in the multidistrict litigation.
Consolidating the cases into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) allowed the committee overseeing the process to put more pressure and focus on moving the case forward, moving cases more quickly to resolution. Lawyers coordinating the litigation work together on issues of discovery.
In April 2016, Judge Barbier granted final approval to the settlement agreement to resolve damage claims related to the oil spill. The settlement totaled an estimated $20 billion and provided relief to states that suffered environmental damage and economic losses as a result of the massive oil spill – Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. The State of Alabama received more than $2 billion in total, which includes compensation for economic losses resulting from the spill, natural resource damages, and an apportionment of Clean Water Act civil fines and penalties. This is the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.
BP Oil Spill lawyers
Jere Beasley and Environmental Section Head Rhon Jones, along with a team of lawyers from the law firm Beasley Allen, represented the State of Alabama as well as thousands of businesses and individuals in litigation seeking to hold BP accountable for damages resulting from the oil spill. Jones, along with lawyers Parker Miller, Jenna Fulk and Rick Stratton, were deputized by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange as deputy attorneys general for the State of Alabama in this case.
Lawyers in our Toxic Torts section handle a variety of toxic exposure claims on behalf of individuals, businesses, and city, county and state governments. We are currently handling claims involving PFAS contamination of water systems, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma related to use of Roundup weed killer. For more information about environmental litigation involving toxic exposure, please contact us.