MC Law Review
2011 Law Review Symposium
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers and injuring many others. The rig, owned by Transocean Ltd., was located about fifty miles offshore from the Mississippi River Delta. Two days after the explosion, on April 22, 2010, the oil platform sank into approximately 5,000 feet of ocean water, causing crude oil to begin gushing out of the pipe that connected the oil well to the drilling platform.
BP was the lessee and principal developer of the oil field on which the Deepwater Horizon operated. On April 24, 2010, both the Coast Guard and BP released statements estimating the amount of oil flow into the Gulf at 1,000 barrels per day. Four days later this number rose to 5,000 barrels per day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its own estimate of the projected flow. However, final estimates released by the federal government rate the average flow between 53,000 and 62,000 barrels per day, totaling 4.9 million barrels in all. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is now known as the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.
BP made several unsuccessful attempts to contain the well before finally sealing the pipe on July 15, 2010. Coastal shorelines affected by the spill ranged from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Many species of fish and bird were affected by the spill, causing loss of marine life. The disaster also caused economic instability in coastal cities and towns due to the sudden decline in tourism and revenue within the fishing industry. NOAA closed much of the federal waters to fishing, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources closed state waters for some time before reopening the waters to certain forms of fishing in August.
Subject to much debate is that BP’s damages are capped at $75 million, as set by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. However, BP’s Chief Executive Officer, Tony Hayward, stated that the company was prepared to pay above $75 million and would not seek reimbursement from the federal government. In fact, on June 16, 2010, President Barack Obama and BP agreed to terms that created a $20 billion escrow fund that would be used to compensate victims of the disaster.
Kenneth Feinberg is the administrator of that fund and acts as a neutral party in its administration. Generally, all claims go through BP, but the claimant must waive any and all of his or her rights to bring suit against BP or anyone involved with the accident. During the oil spill, claims were paid to individuals for three to six months worth of expenses, and were not required to waive their rights to bring suit. After the well was capped however, businesses and individuals alike could receive the worth of any future losses expected to be incurred as a result of the spill. It is also important to note that all claims submitted must be legitimate or they will not be processed. As of January 13, 2011, BP has paid $3,470,371,461 in claims to individuals and citizens.
The 2011 Mississippi College Law Review Symposium focused on the various economic, environmental, and legal implications of the oil spill. We were proud to feature Mr. Kenneth R. Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf coast Claims Facility, as the keynote speaker of their annual symposium.
In addition to Mr. Feinberg, our panels were comprised of distinguished paricipants, including:
- Professor Jamison Colburn, Professor of Law, Penn State University
- Ms. Trudy Fisher, Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Environmental Equality
- Professor Kenneth Murchison, James E. & Betty M. Phillips Professor, Paul M. Herbert Law Center Louisiana State University
- Professor David Robertson, W. Page Keeton Chair in Tort Law University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas at Austin
- Professor Edward Sherman, W.R. Irby Chair & Moise S. Steef, Jr. Professor of Law, Tulane University
- Professor Byron Stier, Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School
- Ms. Betty Ruth Fox, Of Counsel, Watkins & Eager
- Professor Jeffrey Jackson, Owen Cooper Professor of Law, Mississippi College School of Law
To view the videos of the syposium, click the links below