Would-Be BP Whistle-|Blowers Given the Boot

     HOUSTON (CN) – BP did not lie to federal regulators to obtain an offshore mineral lease, a federal judge ruled, finding the would-be whistle-blowers who sued the company have merely “blown their own horn.”
     Kenneth Abbott worked as a paperwork auditor for BP equipment supplier Technip in 2008 before he was laid off in early 2009.
     He sued the London-based oil company that April, seeking to shut down BP’s Atlantis platform and to recover $256 billion in damages.
     The platform is moored 190 miles south of New Orleans.
     Abbott filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which entitles private citizens to sue on behalf of the U.S. government and receive up to 30 percent of any recovery.
     Food & Water Watch, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, joined Abbott as a plaintiff after using the Freedom of Information Act to access documents BP had given the Department of the Interior.
     The Interior Department reviews oil-platform blueprints as part of its offshore mineral-lease process, and has approved the operations of BP’s Atlantis platform every year since it was installed in 2007.
     In his lawsuit, Abbott claimed to have seen emails suggesting that the platform design BP submitted to federal regulators was missing a “rubber stamp” safety-compliance certification by a professional engineer.
     U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes found Thursday, however, that Abbott was off base in his assumption that the stamps were needed to comply with federal law.
     “Stamps may be a common way companies keep track of contractual compliance with public and private contracts, but they are not required themselves,” Hughes wrote. “Although the Constitution does not contemplate an independent judiciary that defers to the other branches, Interior’s conclusion that BP complied with the regulations is persuasive. Abbott’s view is empty. Interior says that it did not rely on BP’s stamps.”
     Hughes additionally found that Abbott lacks standing to sue under the False Claims Act because his claims are based on public information, and he is not “someone with direct and distinct knowledge of the wrongdoing.”
     Abbott and Food & Water Watch had also alleged violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which requires evidence of an injury caused by the defendant.
     They claimed that the possibility of the Atlantis failing caused them injury, but Hughes pointed to the platform’s unblemished safety record in nixing this argument.
     “For seven years, BP has used the Atlantis platform to drill and produce. It has had no incidents,” the 10-page opinion states. “This alone shows that Abbott has suffered no injury…Abbott may sue for threatened injuries if they are ‘certainly impending.’ He says that he is being injured because the platform may fail. He has no facts to connect his anxieties to this platform.”
     Hughes’ pithy style was on full display in his conclusion that sent Abbott and Food & Water Watch packing.
     “The plaintiffs have not identified a design error in the platform caused by irregular paperwork – missing rubber stamps,” he wrote. “None. They have not identified another design error. None. They have not suggested alternative designs. None. They have not blown a whistle. They have blown their own horn.”
     Abbott’s attorney David Perry with Perry & Haas of Corpus Christi was not immediately available for comment.

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