NEW ORLEANS (CN) - The Department of Justice said it will hold BP accountable for the disaster that dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, on top of the $7.8 billion BP agreed to pay fishermen and others.
"While we are pleased that BP may be stepping up to address harms to individual plaintiffs, this by no means fully addresses its responsibility for the harms it has caused - as nothing in the PSC [plaintiff steering committee]/BP settlement compensates the public for the significant damages to its natural resources and environment and BP has yet to pay a penalty for its violations of law," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Late Friday, BP and plaintiff steering committee attorneys announced a $7.8 billion settlement had been reached to compensate 116,000 Gulf Coast fishermen, hotel owners, restaurant workers and seafood processors who lost income because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The proposed settlement involves two agreements: one to resolve claims for economic loss, and another to resolve plaintiffs' medical claims for up to 21 years.
But the settlement does not account for environmental restoration, federal punitive fines, if any, for pollution, or claims against BP from the five Gulf Coast states affected by the oil spill .
The government estimates that 4.1 million barrels, or 172 million gallons, of oil spilled into the Gulf after the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 and unleashed the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
More than 966 miles of shoreline was contaminated with oil, fragile marshlands were inundated with oil and white sand beaches were sullied.
The impact of the oil and toxic dispersants used on it, on marine life and to the health of the Gulf, has been more difficult to chart.
BP acknowledged it used 1.8 million barrels of dispersant to break the oil into drops and help it sink it from the surface.
Susan Shaw, an independent marine toxicologist and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, told Courthouse News previouslythat from a toxicology standpoint, dispersed oil is more toxic than oil by itself. Shaw said that dispersants work by breaking the outer membrane of cells of organs and oil alike. The effect on marine life is that the oil can enter the body more readily.
In June 2010, C. Arlen Braud II, a Madisonville, La. attorney, filed a federal class action on behalf of oystermen against BP and Nalco, the dispersant manufacturer. The oystermen claimed BP's use of more than 1 million gallons of dispersant in the Gulf caused the poison to become "a permanent part of the seabed and food chain in the biostructure in the Gulf of Mexico."
The oystermen claimedthat BP used such an enormous quantity of the chemical "to lessen the public reaction to the oil spill by forcing the oil to the bottom of the Gulf and thereby obviating the need for shoreline cleanup."
Bloomberg News reported today that L. Blake Jones, a New Orleans attorney representing commercial fishermen seeking compensation for oil-polluted oyster beds, said the BP settlement may not provide enough money to cover future damages to the fishing industry.