BP Oil Spill Trial Begins Today: Will They Be Held Accountable?
By Andy Rowell
Today, nearly three years after BP’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill, which claimed eleven lives and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the company is finally due in the dock.
Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department and the oil giant were said to be in last-minute efforts to avoid what could be a year-long trial. But with no deal announced, it looks like it is finally going to trial.
Everything about this trial will be huge. There are 11 teams of lawyers. Thousands of pages of exhibits have been filed, and 80 witnesses will be called.
Our old friend and ex-BP boss, Tony Hayward, will give an appearance, although not in person as many in the Gulf States would like, but in a cowardly videotaped deposition.
A settlement is complicated by the demands of the five Gulf region states affected by the spill. At the heart of the trial is whether BP was “grossly negligent,” a loosely defined legal term which will have the lawyers contorting into knots to try and prove or disprove. Indeed the Financial Times argues that the distinction between the two is “not clearly established in U.S. law.”
If BP is found to just be “negligent,” under the Clean Water Act, the penalties are $1,100 per barrel, however if “gross negligence” is proven then it is $4,300 per barrel. If found guilty of gross negligence, BP would be liable for as much as $17.6 billion in Clean Water Act fines.
However, in addition, the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are demanding an additional $34 billion in damages under the Oil Pollution Act.
The first phase of the trial is to apportion blame for the disaster and could take three months just to determine the “gross negligent” part of the legal action. The second phase of the trial will determine exactly how much oil was spilled in order to calculate environmental fines. The third phase will deal with environmental and economic damages.
But we already know BP is to blame. We already know that BP was grossly negligent. Eleven lost lives and some 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf tell you that. Last year the U.S. argued BP had a “culture of corporate recklessness” and had acted with “gross negligence or willful misconduct."
According to the plaintiffs, BP was over-budget and behind schedule for its Macondo well, so the oil giant cut corners and ignored tests showing unsafe pressure levels as it tried to complete the project.
BP was not alone in being at fault. Halliburton’s cement job was woefully defective Transocean didn’t behave any better by disabling safety systems and failing to maintain the rig adequately.
Indeed all three are grossly negligent, according to Steve Herman a lead attorney for the plaintiffs: “We believe that there is overwhelming evidence that BP, Transocean and Halliburton were all grossly negligent, and we look forward to introducing that evidence at trial.”
Another pushing for the trail is Luther Strange, the attorney-general for Alabama, “We are very anxious for the trial to start on Monday,” he told the Financial Times. “We have been working very closely with the U.S. government and we think we have a very strong case to prove gross negligence.”
The U.S. will also pursue a finding of gross negligence, Wyn Hornbuckle, the Justice Department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg: “We intend to prove that BP was grossly negligent and that the company engaged in willful misconduct in causing this disastrous oil spill,” he said.
For BP, all the wriggling and half-truths surrounding the spill have to stop. The oil giant has to finally come clean. “BP can hire all the smiling faces they can find for their commercials, but in court it’s a game-changer,” Garret Graves, the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of the state of Louisiana, told the BBC. “They will have to start telling the truth."
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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