NEW ORLEANS - Even as the National Academy of Sciences warns about the dangers of chemical dispersants to clean oil spills, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has dismissed all claims in the BP oil spill case against Nalco, the maker of the dispersant that was used in unprecedented quantities to combat the 2010 BP spill.
BP recommended, and the U.S. government approved, the use of 1.8 million gallons of Nalco’s Corexit dispersant to break up the oil, both at the source of the leak a mile under the sea, and at the water’s surface. Cleanup workers filed hundreds of claims against the company in federal court claiming that exposure to the chemical made them sick.
The way Nalco got out of the civil case is interesting. Barbier’s order granting summary judgment says Nalco is not liable because its use was part of a national spill response plan that mandates oil companies to clean up the oil as fast as possible.
But the judge also noted that plaintiffs’ lawyers on a committee he selected, called the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, failed to conduct witness interviews and seek documents and other information to challenge the defenses presented by Nalco and stipulated to by the U.S. government.
Later, when the plaintiffs’ lawyers tried to argue for maintaining the claims against Nalco, they admitted that they didn’t produce any evidence by an April court deadline because they were focusing instead on settling economic and medical claims against BP. They said in court filings that they did so for “strategic reasons.”
They ended up getting a settlement with BP to pay economic and medical damage claims estimated at $7.8 billion.
One major argument against Corexit has focused on the U.S. government’s wishy-washy initial response to the volumes of Corexit BP was using. But government lawyers have subsequently produced evidence that the United States approved of the use of Corexit in those amounts at every step. The plaintiffs later said that they didn’t accept those claims and wanted to examine the government’s witnesses, but the judge said that by then, they had missed their chance.
“The (Plaintiffs Steering Committee)’s failure to avail itself of the opportunity to test the veracity of the United States’ stipulations provides no reason for the Court to disregard these stipulations,” Barbier wrote.
Steve Herman, the co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs' committee said they were fine with dismissing Nalco because BP stepped up to the plate and admitted liability for medical claims as a part of their settlement.
"As we said in our original Motion to dismiss Nalco, BP is responsible, both as a matter of law and by virtue of contractual indemnity agreements," Herman said. "Indeed, BP has formally assumed the responsibility for compensating the clean-up workers and other Gulf Coast residents in the medical benefits settlement.