An Oil Drilling Company Even Sarah Palin Can Hate

Photo by geerlingguy, <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lifeisaprayer/2815879337/">via Flickr</a>.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and is still spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, is sending a message loud and clear: it intends to assume very little financial responsibility for the disaster. In a filing submitted to a federal court in Houston this week, the company has invoked an obscure, 159-year-old law to contend that it should only have to pay for the cost of salvaging the debris of the rig from the ocean.

This is a claim so outrageous that even Sarah Palin is complaining about it. The former-half-term Governor of Alaska and drilling cheerleader-in-chief took to Twitter late on Thursday to lambaste Transocean:

Oil spill states:FIGHT that 150-yr-old,irrelevant maritime law thats used as claim to NOT apply remedy to innocent injured people;Alaska did

Palin is referring to the aftermath of Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989, when Exxon also attempted to use the Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability Act of 1851 to curb its liability for the incident. The company wasn’t successful, though it managed to drag out the legal case for almost two decades and ultimately paid just $500 million in damages—a fraction of the disaster’s total cost.

The Deepwater Horizon rig was valued at $500 million before it blew up on April 20 and later sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Now it’s worth only $27 million. If Transocean’s bid is successful, the company could dodge paying not only any environmental damages, but also for compensating its employees who were injured in the blast. McClatchy reports:

In a statement, Transocean said the court petition was filed at the request of its insurance companies, and the petition will allow the company to consolidate all outstanding lawsuits before a single federal judge in Houston. The company said it now faces more than 100 lawsuits over the spill in several states.

Lawyers for those injured in the blast said the petition could also prevent any claims filed more than six months after the accident.

“It’s very unfair,” said Matthew Shaffer, a Houston attorney who represents a handful of Transocean employees injured in the blast. “It’s a slap in the face to anyone who has been injured because of their negligence.”

It remains murky which of the companies involved in the spill deserves the lion’s share of the blame. BP maintains that the problem was with Transocean’s rig; Transocean blames contractor Halliburton for a bad cement job. Halliburton says it was just following orders from BP. 

But regardless of who’s the biggest culprit, it’s rather rich for Palin to be posing as the champion of those injured by the spill. Even in the midst of the disaster, she was defending offshore drilling (including in a Facebook post titled “Domestic Drilling: Why We Can Still Believe”). “I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry,” she said in a recent speech. But as all three of the major players in the Gulf spill scramble to avoid responsibility, it’s not clear why Palin thinks the industry has earned that trust.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.