At least 36 oil spill lawsuits have been filed against British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean Ltd. as the massive oil slick gushing from the site where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank last month continues to threaten the gulf coast.
Experts say that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on track to be one of the most horrific environmental catastrophes in history, and the economic damage it is set to inflict on oyster farmers, fishermen, property owners and tourism may be just as severe. Lawsuits began to pour in as soon as the oil rig burned and sank at the end of last month, and have continued unabated.
Of the 36 BP lawsuits filed, 31 of them have been class action suits over the oil spill. The lawsuits have been filed on behalf of coastal property owners, family members of those killed or injured aboard the rig, fishermen, shrimpers, oyster farmers, charter boat operators and environmental groups. The lawsuits have been filed in courthouses from Texas to Florida, and some experts say they expect some of them to be consolidated and centralized as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, for pretrial proceedings.
Investigators do not know what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil platform to explode, burn and sink last month. Eleven of the 126-member crew are missing and presumed dead as a result of the blast. The incident ruptured the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the surface, and several safety measures that were supposed to prevent an environmental disaster failed.
Currently, the wellhead is gushing 5,000 barrels of oil per day with no signs of stopping. The oil slick stretches from the Florida panhandle to the Louisiana gulf and is so large it can be seen from space.
Transocean designed and operated the oil rig, and also designed the wellhead safety measures that failed, but BP leased the platform and bears responsibility, due to the Oil Pollution Act, passed in the U.S. after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 in Alaska. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is set to surpass the Exxon Valdez incident in both size and environmental damage, some experts say.
President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. will spare no expense to protect the gulf coast from the oil spill, but that he expects BP to foot the bill. BP has not commented on the litigation, citing company policy.