A panel of federal appeals court judges in New Orleans has refused to reconsider a ruling that BP and Andarko Petroleum Corp. must pay federal fines related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
BP and Anadarko, co-owners of the failed Macondo oil well, had sought to avoid penalties by blaming another company's failed equipment.
In an opinion issued Wednesday (Nov. 5), a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court stood by its June ruling that oil from the disaster came from the Macondo well, making BP and Anadarko liable for Clean Water Act violations.
The panel had previously upheld a 2012 decision by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the complex oil spill litigation.
BP and Anadarko have each asked the entire 5th Circuit Court to review the ruling.
Barbier is set to determine how much the companies are responsible for paying in Clean Water Act fines at a January trial.
In a September ruling, Barbier said BP's "gross negligence" was mostly to blame for the disaster, meaning the company could see as much as $4,300 in fines for every barrel of oil released, the maximum penalty under the federal Clean Water Act. BP's fines could reach up to $18 billion total.
Barbier also found Halliburton, a contractor on the well, and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, partly responsible, though not grossly negligent.
For the past two years, BP and Anadarko have looked to the 5th Circuit to overturn what they say are misdirected fines.
The companies have argued that it was the failed blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon that caused the April 2010 explosion, killing 11 men and sending millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The rig and the blowout preventer were owned by Transocean, which pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor Clean Water Act violation and agreed to pay a $1 billion fine.
BP and Anadarko had argued that while the oil from the disaster came from their Macondo well, it spilled into the ocean from a pipe linking the well and the rig, a pipe owned by Transocean.
The 5th Circuit panel rejected that argument in its June ruling. BP and Anadarko asked the panel to reconsider its decision.
The companies argued that the panel of judges relied on incorrect information that the Macondo well had been sealed with cement prior to the disaster to make its decision. The well was never successfully sealed, which means oil flowed upward and into the ocean through the broken Transocean pipe, they said.
The companies also argued that federal law only applies fines to the owner or operator of the vessel or facility where the oil was discharged. In their view, again, that is Transocean.
In their Wednesday opinion, the judges called the cement seal argument a "red herring" and "immaterial" to its finding. What matters is that the seal did not stop the flow of oil, whether it was successfully put in place or not, they said.
They also clarified that whatever Transocean may have done wrong leading up to the disaster, the Clean Water Act does not allow BP and Anadarko to escape liability.
Oil may have spewed into the Gulf at several points in the drilling system, but it started to go out of control in the well, the judges said. They maintained federal law holds all owners and operators, not a single party, liable in such a case.
BP and Anadarko must now wait to see if the full 5th Circuit Court will decide to review the decision.
Article originally published on Nola.com.