Why Isn't BP Under Criminal Investigation?
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"The Department team is examining the full range of affirmative legal options that may be available to the United States. The team is providing daily legal advice and coordination for federal attorneys from across the Government, a vital function. Department attorneys also are defending the interests of the United States in suits brought by others."
While Welch's letter may allude to the possibility of a criminal investigation down the road, West said the correspondence makes clear that the disaster is still being treated as "an accident."
"The magnitude of this disaster rivals any we have seen and yet it is being treated as an accident by the government," said Scott West, who spent nearly two-decades at the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. "I bet there are 1,000 criminal investigators in the federal government looking at this and are asking 'what the heck is going on?' but they can't speak out of school. So I am going to give them voice."
By comparison, a pipeline rupture that occurred last November at BP's Prudhoe Bay operations, which resulted in a 46,000 gallon oil spill, immediately lead the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division to issue a statement saying the agency was working with the FBI to investigate the cause of the incident and to determine if any laws were broken.
"The (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division is continuing to work in concert with our federal and state partners, and British Petroleum, to assess the situation associated with the Nov. 29 rupture," said Tyler Amon, the acting special agent-in-charge of the Northwest office of the EPA's criminal division. "This matter is under investigation."
Furthermore, BP's probation officer, Mary Frances Barnes, told Truthout that the EPA and FBI's investigation will determine if BP Exploration Alaska violated the terms of its probation.
But in the Gulf, the longer the government waits to conduct a criminal probe, West and Wojnicz said, the harder it will be to obtain accurate information about the events that lead up to the explosion.
"As time passes, people's memories fade," West said. "It's just a natural thing. The subjects of the investigation (BP and senior managers) have had over a month to sanitize records and get stories straight."
West said there should have also been a subpoena immediately issued for emails and other documents that may shed light on the events leading up to the spill and the discussions that took place afterwards.
"The thing that has brought most criminals down is their email," West said. "The first thing you do is grab the servers so they can't be doctored. But this company does not appear to be under a court order to produce or preserve so what's to stop them from tampering with potential evidence?"
In fact, Congress has already been informed that seven hours of data leading up to the explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon is now missing.
"While some data were being transmitted to shore for safekeeping right up until the April 20 blast, officials from Transocean, the rig owner, told Congress that the last seven hours of its data are missing and that all written logs were lost in the explosion," the Associated Press reported May 13.
"The gap poses a mystery for investigators: What decisions were made -- and what warnings might have been ignored? Earlier tests, which suggested that explosive gas was leaking from the mile-deep well, were preserved."
West said if he were the special agent-in-charge of the EPA's Dallas office, which has jurisdiction over the area of the Gulf where the Deepwater Horizon sank, he would have "dispatched criminal investigators immediately just as I did in March 2006, as the special agent-in-charge in Seattle when BP's negligence resulted in the dumping of crude onto the North Slope of Alaska."