BP executives sought to blame "blue collar rig workers": U.S.

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 6, 2012 7:25pm EDT

A decomposed fish lies in the water as workers pick up oil balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Waveland, Mississippi in this July 7, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Lee Celano/Files

A decomposed fish lies in the water as workers pick up oil balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Waveland, Mississippi in this July 7, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Celano/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - BP executives wanted to concentrate blame for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on "blue collar rig workers" in order to save themselves, U.S. government lawyers wrote in a court document that until Thursday was partially redacted.

According to the newly public and complete version of the court document, Justice Department lawyers are taking an even harsher tone against BP Plc for the 2010 oil spill than previously thought, invoking the language of class conflict.

The August 31 document from the Justice Department was already notable for its strong wording about what the government considers gross negligence on the part of the London-based oil giant and its management.

BP denies it was grossly negligent in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which was the largest in U.S. history, and the resolution of that point will help determine how much the company will owe 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," the company said.

The document 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.

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U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Thursday ordered the full document released, saying BP had withdrawn its confidentiality claim.

'LIMITED' INVESTIGATION

The sentences 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.

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.

One individual, 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. A trial is set for February 2013.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman had no comment.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Howard Goller and Jackie Frank)