|December 14, 2015|
BP faces Mexican class action lawsuit over Deepwater Horizon oil spill
|BP is facing another potentially huge compensation bill from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill after a class action law suit was launched in Mexico for the environmental catastrophe caused in its territory by the fatal disaster.|
The company recently agreed a final settlement of $20.8bn with US authorities over the damage caused by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement -- the biggest pollution penalty in US history -- was reached after a federal court found the company guilty of gross negligence.
BP now faces calls to pay for the clean-up in Mexican waters and compensate for the irreparable damage caused to marine life by the oil itself, and the toxic dispersant chemical subsequently used to solidify and sink the oil droplets.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on the evening of 20 April 2010 after gas seeped into the well that the rig was drilling, killing 11 crew members and injuring 17 others.
The rig -- located 80km (50 miles) off the south-east coast of Louisiana -- sank and about 5m barrels of oil escaped into the Gulf of Mexico over the next 87 days, coating hundreds of miles of shoreline with oil which caused severe damage to marine life, coral reefs and birds.
The oil reached Mexican shores on 30 April. Hundreds of communities which rely on fishing and tourism in the worst-affected states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo have seen their livelihoods plummet. The damage is ongoing, according to the claim.
Five years on, Mexican authorities have failed to act against the company. Nor have individuals or communities directly affected by the spill so far taken any legal action.
This case is brought by Sinaloa Class Actions -- a non-governmental organisation (NGO) composed of lawyers specialising in environmental disasters. It launched the legal challenge against four BP subsidiaries -- two headquartered in Texas, two in Mexico -- at a federal court in Mexico City on Monday.
Unlike in the US, class actions in Mexico are rare and not widely known about, as they were only introduced as a legal remedy in 2010.
The law permits class actions to be brought by NGOs in cases of serious rights violations, such as in environmental disasters.
"BP has accepted it is responsible and is paying for the damage in the US. The damage is ongoing here," Luis Manuel Pérez de Acha, a lawyer bringing the case told the Guardian.
"The federal prosecutors could have and should have brought this case. We are only bringing it because they didn't. Perhaps they don't have confidence in class actions because we are still in the process of constructing case law in this area."
Numerous US scientific studies into the impacts of the disaster have found widespread and catastrophic damage to plant and animal species in all parts of the food chain across the affected zones.
This body of evidence will be used by the federal judge to determine the merit of the claim.
The petition asks for the federal prosecutor's office for the protection of the environment (Profepa) to release its unpublished studies to the court, and for expert witnesses to be called in order to determine the extent and value of the damage in Mexican territory.
If successful, the settlement would be managed by a special body of the country's supreme court.
Lawyers say the case should be resolved by the end of 2016.