British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Case



Information held in the Tribunal of Quito:

Read the case brief 

Presented by Esperanza Martínez, Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

About the presenter:

Esperanza Martinez studied biology and has extensive experience with leading organizations of the Ecuadorian environmental movement. Among other positions, she has been president of Acción Ecológica, president and secretary of CEDENMA (Coordinadora Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y del Medio Ambiente), coordinator of the campaign Amazonía por la Vida, and coordinator of Oilwatch. She has also authored several publications and received various awards such as the Alexander Langer Award in 2002 in Italy.

On April 20, 2010 there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which BP operated with the Swiss firm Transocean, that caused an estimated five million barrels of oil to be spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and the death of 11 workers.

Two days later, it sunk. Between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil spilled per day.

The BP oil spill is the largest oil spill in marine waters, according to the flow estimates announced on August 2 by a federal panel of scientists, called the Flow Rate Technical Group. This panel has claimed the spill to have gone well beyond 4.9 million barrels of oil.

Only in July did the disastrous spill stop.

International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Informations held in the Tribunal of Lima:

Verdict, Lima: (Judge: Terisa Turner)

Presenter Esperanza Martínez – Acción Ecologica, Ecuador

Expert: Miyoko Sakashita (video), United States

Affected: Braulio Gutierrez, México

Objective of the Tribunal: to hear more evidence and solve

On April 20th 2010 the Deepwater Horizon petroleum exploration and production rig, which BP had leased from the Swiss firm Transocean, suffered an explosion and fire. Two days later the platform sank in the sea causing a massive, prolonged oil spill that was brought under control only in August 2010. The oil poured out of the seabed under high pressure into the Gulf of Mexico for 106 days. An estimated 4.9 million barrels spread over and into the sea. This is equivalent to 780 million liters of crude oil.

The case was filed as a lawsuit in Ecuador, signed by Vandana Shiva, Nnimmo Bassey and others, on the basis that BP’s oil spill constituted a violation of the rights of nature. The Ecuadorian court rejected the request on formal jurisdictional grounds.

The submitted scientific and documented evidence related to BP’s spill allows the Tribunal to issue a judgment. The Tribunal considered that the evidence presented has demonstrated the existence of serious damage to the sea and life in the Gulf of Mexico and further afield. During the spill and fire, thousands of marine species were killed, hundreds of thousands of birds and fish are now missing after their offspring and the reproduction processes of many species were negatively affected, and some 900 dolphins were found stranded, dead or dying from 2010 to December 2014. Researchers have found evidence that dolphins in the Barataria Bay of Louisiana suffer from abnormal hormone levels, lung disease and anemia related to the explosion, oil that was spilled, and dispersants used. Nearly 500 dead sea turtles have been found annually in the area. Bluefin and yellow fin tuna have been shown to suffer from diseases and irregular heartbeats. BP used synthetic bacteria that causes disastrous impacts on microorganisms. Oil trapped in the deep ocean fell to the bottom of the sea, like a fog that slowly settled over approximately 3,200 square kilometers. This sub-marine oil has produced effects on the thermo-regulation of the climate of the entire planetary system due to the biochemical and physical action of the spill in the Gulf Stream. As the Gulf of Mexico is shared among the United States, Cuba, Mexico and beyond, the spill has affected all of Central America and the Caribbean; and considering that the sea, winds and ocean currents flow without borders, the spill has affected the entire planet.

BP must allocate funds, not to increase its exploration and exploitation in deep water, but rather for reparations for damage caused by the Gulf oil spill and the harmful use of dispersants. BP must leave underground an amount of oil equivalent to the quantity of oil spilled in the Gulf as an initial step toward leaving more oil underground. BP must incorporate into its agenda a meaningful plan for the realization of corporate social responsibility. It must respect and abide by a moratoria on oil and gas exploration and production in deep seas as well as the progressive abandonment of maritime operations overall. BP must make public all the information it has about the oil spill’s damage, the techniques used to “clean up” the mess, and make public the list of scientific institutions and individual scientists who have been commissioned by the company to undertake studies, research or technical conceptualizations and interventions in relation to the disaster.

The Tribunal agrees to make a request to the UN to create a collective, multilateral process to assess petroleum operations at sea, to consider and impose moratoria, and to identify necessary reparation actions for disasters past, present and future.

The Tribunal salutes the fast-expanding international campaign to divest investments in fossil fuel and hydrocarbon corporations (oil, gas and coal) and recommends to parties promoting such divestment that they prioritize eliminating investments in BP, because of BP’s violations of the rights of Nature with respect to its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while not neglecting other fossil fuel and hydrocarbon corporate divestments.

Finally, the Tribunal urges the Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador to initiate a review of the BP case with a view to expanding Earth jurisprudence, especially considering that Ecuador along with Bolivia are the only countries in the world, along with several dozen local communities in the USA, that recognize nature as a subject of rights and as such, that nature has rights to restoration and reparations.

The Tribunal recognizes that in addition to the violation of the rights of Nature in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has generated serious negative ecological impacts elsewhere that may constitute additional violations of the rights of Nature. For example, BP’s involvement in the exploitation of the Athabasca Tar Sands in northern Alberta, Canada requires investigation in this regard. Other BP exploitations of hydrocarbons demand investigation. Therefore the Tribunal has decided to remain engaged in hearings about BP’s global hydrocarbon exploitations in its subsequent hearings.

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The second International Rights of Nature Tribunal convened December 5-6, 2014 in Lima, Peru. For two full days a panel of 13 distinguished judges heard twelve prominent cases while on the other side of the city the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC COP 20) deliberated.

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