The Justice Department and Transocean filed a joint statement in federal court Friday in which they urge the judge to accept the company's guilty plea for its role in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and oil spill.
The offshore rig company acknowledges its failures that led to the deaths of 11 rig workers, nine of whom worked for Transocean, but at the same time, the government places the ultimate blame squarely on BP.
Transocean agreed more than a month ago to plead guilty and pay $400 million in criminal penalties, as well as $1 billion in civil fines. The criminal penalty was the second largest ever imposed, behind the $4.5 billion BP agreed to pay in its own plea bargain.
Now, the government and the company are asking Judge Jane Triche Milazzo to accept the terms of the plea agreement when the company is sentenced Feb. 14.
Prosecutors used the filing to justify the smaller fines for Transocean by making a clear distinction between the rig company's culpability and that of BP, which owned the well and hired Transocean to provide the rig and most of the manpower.
“Transocean’s crew, while negligent, carried out drilling operations in general, and the negative test in particular, under BP’s instruction and supervision,” the draft filing reads.
Moreover, the government praised Transocean for its cooperation and “hard-earned understanding” with federal investigators, dating back to the days when the Macondo well was still spewing oil and gas – and striking a stark contrast with the government’s claims that BP representatives lied about the size of the spill and obstructed efforts to respond to the disaster.
The joint memo says Transocean crew members made poor decisions regarding a key test of pressure in the well, but were only following orders from BP’s rig supervisors when, in spite of anomalous pressure readings, went ahead and removed protective drilling mud, allowing dangerous natural gas a clear path to ignite on the rig above.
And finally, the agreement notes that nine of the 11 crew members killed in the explosions were the very men who carried out the instructions to remove the drilling mud.
The Justice Department is pursuing manslaughter charges against the two BP rig leaders, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine. Both men are fighting the charges, saying they are being unfairly scapegoated for a string of cost-cutting and time-saving decisions made by people above them on shore.