E-Mail Disclosure Could Play Role in BP Gulf Spill Case

June 13, 2012

Aggressive efforts to access other people's e-mails seem to be a key part of oil giant BP's strategy in the case over damages from the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A federal judge on June 11, 2012, denied BP's bid to see 21 e-mails and other documents sent between the White House and other federal agencies.

Reuters reported: "U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan in New Orleans said the federal interest in preserving secrecy, together with the public interest in ensuring an effective response to the next disaster, outweighed BP's need for the documents to defend itself in litigation by the government over the spill."

More chilling, perhaps, was BP's effort to get e-mails sent by two private-sector scientists in an apparent effort to discredit their work. BP subpoenaed private e-mails sent by scientists Christopher Reddy and Richard Camilli, who work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Both BP and the Coast Guard asked for the expertise of these two scientists (along with many others) on the rate at which oil was flowing from BP's damaged well. BP's own credibility on the question of flow rate was destroyed by revelations that it had publicly underestimated the flow rate and suppressed findings from its own staff that the flow was much larger.

In a June 3, 2012, op-ed in the Boston Globe, Reddy and Camilli said that by seeking their confidential discussions, BP (which already had their public findings) was damaging the "deliberative process" that goes into sound science.

In April, a former BP engineer was arrested on charges of obstructing justice, after he allegedly deleted hundreds of text messages from his iPhone related to flow-rate estimates.