Congressman Accuses Federal Investigators of Suppressing Safety Concerns at BP Offshore Oil Platform; New Life for False Claims Act Lawsuit?
By Jason Enzler
Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has accused government investigators of suppressing concerns about the safety of BP’s Atlantis oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a letter sent to the Secretary for the Department of the Interior, Congressman Grijalva claims that the agency’s Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management, Regulation, and Enforcement “mislead” Congress and the public by failing “to disclose key details” about safety concerns with the rig, and that investigators “went to extreme lengths to protect BP” “while ignoring the real safety threats” Atlantis posed.
At issue is BP’s Atlantis drilling platform, an operation similar to the Deepwater Horizon facility that exploded and caused the deaths of several people and the biggest oil spill in U.S. history in the spring of 2010. Whistleblower Ken Abbott, a BP contractor, filed a False Claims Act lawsuit in 2009 alleging that Atlantis had serious design defects that could affect safety. The agency launched an investigation of Abbott’s claims, just days before the Deepwater Horizon facility exploded, but concluded in 2011 that Abbott’s allegations had no merit. However, according to a Washington Post report, that investigation’s conclusion did not mention that all three structural engineers involved in the review held doubts about Atlantis’ design and its underwater construction.
Abbott’s False Claims Act lawsuit was dismissed in August 2014, but there is a chance his claim might be resurrected. According to the Washington Post report, Food & Water Watch (an NGO that joined Abbott in his case) has filed a motion asking the court to reconsider its dismissal of the lawsuit based upon this newly available information.