While BP and Anadarko were questioning certain components of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), on another front, two other corporations were challenging another key term of the statute in Texas courts. The dispute is based on the cleanup of oil spilled from a barge into the waters near Orange, Texas. The spill occurred when the barge was grounded on wetlands after a hurricane struck in September 2008. Brothers Enterprises, Inc. purchased the barge in April 2008 and later sold it to Toms Welding, Inc. in a removal agreement. Despite the U.S. Coast Guard’s instructions to delay salvaging until a plan was approved, Tom’s Welding allegedly went ahead and ended up spilling some oil. The company then sold the barge to Leesboro Corp. before a larger spill occurred, giving rise to the lawsuit.
Tom’s Welding argued it was not a “responsible party” under OPA and, as a result, was not liable for cleanup costs because Leesboro was the owner of the barge at the time of the larger spill. Tom’s Welding also contended the barge did not represent a “substantial threat of a discharge” despite being stranded in tidal wetland on top of gas pipelines and still containing oil.
U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone disagreed, stating that Tom’s Welding’s interpretation was too narrow after taking OPA’s plain language and legislative history into account. Judge Crone also held that questions remained as to whether the barge constituted a “substantial threat of discharge” when it was grounded on top of the oil pipelines, clearing the way for the case to proceed to trial. The case will now proceed.
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