U.S. Gov’t: “BP executives blamed blue collar rig workers to save themselves”

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The very-public war between the U.S. government and British oil giant BP continues this week. The U.S. continues to hurl accusations at the company, and BP continues to be on the defensive.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the U.S. had filed court documents accusing BP of “willful misconduct and gross negligence”. But the news agency now reports that all of the court documents have been made public, and Justice Department lawyers are taking an even harsher tone against the company. The public documents reveal the U.S. believes BP executives wanted “blue collar rig workers” to take the fall for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, in order to save themselves.

In a company statement, BP has fiercely denied that it was grossly negligent in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The disaster destroyed a swath of coastline along the Gulf, and is the largest oil spill ever recorded in U.S. history. The argument is now over how much BP owes the government in pollution damages.

In a statement on Thursday, BP disputed the latest criticism of its executives. “BP believes it was not grossly negligent and looks forward to presenting evidence on this issue at trial in January.”

Reuters has examined the documents and says it shows the Justice Department is preparing for a bruising court fight that is headed for trial in January 2013 — unless the sides reach an agreement before then. They have not commented on settlement talks.

The news agency also reports that Justice Department lawyers blacked out two sentences before they filed the document in federal court in New Orleans. They cited a confidentiality claim by BP.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Thursday ordered the full document released, saying BP had withdrawn its confidentiality claim.

The sentences reportedly appear in a section of the 39-page brief in which Justice Department lawyers attack BP’s internal investigation of the oil spill. Government lawyers charge that the internal inquiry, run by BP executive Mark Bly, ignored embarrassing emails from drilling supervisors that preceded the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people.

“Bly and BP’s management in London purposefully limited the investigation by excluding any of the systemic management failures that led to the disaster,” the lawyers wrote.

They continued: “This was a decision designed to ensure that the public and legal lines of accountability would be focused exclusively on blue collar rig workers and other contractor/defendants – but at all cost, not upon BP management and the inexplicable behaviors that coursed through the pages” of the internal BP emails.

Reuters notes that BP’s statement on Thursday stood by its own inquiry. “All official investigation reports have been consistent with the core conclusion of the Bly report: that the accident was the result of multiple causes involving multiple parties,” the company said.

Former BP engineer Kurt Mix has been criminally charged in connection with the oil spill. Mix has pleaded not guilty to charges of destroying evidence about the amount of oil released from BP’s Macondo well. His trial is set for February 2013.

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