Anticipating avalanche of lawsuits, BP scooped up oil-spill experts

Brett Michael Dykes

A recent report from the McClatchy News Service highlights a little-noted feature of BP's corporate damage-control strategy in the aftermath of the catastrophic Gulf oil spill: a plan to stockpile as many oil-industry experts as it could to prevent them from aiding potential plaintiffs in spill-related lawsuits against the oil giant.

BP has already earned much hostility from Gulf residents, thanks to the litigation waivers it obtained from many spill-cleanup volunteers and out-of-work fishermen. And in the immediate wake of the April Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that triggered the spill, the company took a similar preventive approach to sewing up the expert-witness market. McClatchy reporter Mark Caputo notes that the company's gone on a retainer spree, lining up scientists, air and water data-collection labs, and other assorted oil-industry experts who could prove formidable enemies on the other side of a plaintiffs suit.

Caputo writes:

Five days after the April 20 blowout, (plaintiff’s attorney Robert) McKee said, he tried to hire a scientist who's assisted him in an ongoing 16-year environmental lawsuit in Ecuador involving Dupont.

"It was too late. He'd already been hired by the other side," McKee said. "If you aren't fast enough, you get beat to the punch."

At the same time it was bolstering its legal team, BP was downplaying how much oil was spewing from the Deepwater Horizon well — something that lawyers say is likely to be a critical factor in both court decisions and government fines.

So far, it's estimated that attorneys have filed some 250 lawsuits against BP, with many more now in the works.