November 20, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Federal authorities have blamed two rig supervisors for the deaths of 11 workers killed when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and spawned BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even though a string of investigations spread fault among a host of people and companies.
A federal indictment last week charged Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine with manslaughter, accusing them of botching a crucial safety test. But a defense attorney claims the two BP well site leaders are scapegoats, given that other government probes have concluded the disaster resulted from a complex web of mistakes and a corporate culture that placed profits ahead of safety.
One expert speculated the Justice Department probably took aim at targets higher up BP's corporate ladder before charging Kaluza and Vidrine.
Either there simply isn't evidence that anybody higher up was involved, or the department has concluded the only way it's going to make its case against more senior corporate officers is if it charges and eventually obtains cooperation from Vidrine and Kaluza, said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section.
Although London-based BP PLC has agreed to plead guilty to charges related to the workers' deaths, none of the company's onshore engineers or executives is accused of wrongdoing in the indictment unsealed last Thursday. Former BP executive David Rainey was charged separately with withholding information about the spill from Congress, but the allegations against him aren't related to the causes of the blowout.
Shaun Clarke, one of Kaluza's attorneys, said the narrow focus of his client's indictment doesn't jibe with the widely accepted conclusion that multiple failures at multiple levels in multiple companies led to the blowout.