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Federal judge rules BP not negligent in Alaska oil spill

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Alaska [official website] on Tuesday dismissed the petition of federal prosecutors, finding that British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website; JURIST news archive] was not negligent in a 2009 oil spill. Because the spill, which released 13,500 gallons of oil onto the North Slope of Alaska, was not a result of BP's negligence, BP did not violate the terms of its probation. BP's probation began as a result of a 2007 conviction [AP report] when the company was found negligent for spilling 200,000 gallons of oil on the North Slope in 2006. Prosecutors linked the two spills as evidence of BP's negligence by arguing that in both instances the pipes had frozen and BP ignored the signs of rupturing and leaking in order to cut costs. The pipe had been partially or fully frozen for at least six months before the expanding ice caused it to rupture [Alaska Dispatch report]. Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed this argument stating that the 2009 spill was a result of a unique alignment of circumstances and that BP adhered to accepted industry practices [WP report] and reasonably addressed the situation. Beistline also dismissed prosecutors' claim that the migration of the oil into US waters was a violation of the Clean Water Act [33 USC § 1251 et seq. text]. The decision is a victory for the oil company [Reuters report] struggling to recover its image after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come to light. In November, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi remanded a lawsuit [JURIST report] by the Mississippi attorney general against the administrator of the BP $20 billion Deepwater Horizons reparations fund. In July, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed consolidated racketeering claims against BP [JURIST report] in connection with the spill brought under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq. text]. Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August 2010 against BP for damages to the state's coast and economy, claiming that the oil giant has failed in its efforts to accept responsibility for the oil spill. In July 2010, a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] was filed against the company in a Louisiana state court alleging that its negligent actions led to the spill and that BP was further negligent in its oversight of the cleanup effort, resulting in volunteers falling ill due to inadequate protective equipment. One month prior, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP.

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