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US judge: oil claims official not independent of BP

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 2, 2011
The administrator of BP's $20 billion oil spill compensation fund has been influenced by the British oil giant and must stop telling victims he is independent, a US federal judge said Wednesday.

US District Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans ordered BP to refrain from referring to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) -- a fund set up by the oil firm at the White House's urging -- or its administrator Ken Feinberg as independent.

The firm must also inform those filing claims for compensation from the disastrous spill that they have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice and can join some of the hundreds of lawsuits pending against BP if they do not accept a final payment, according to the ruling.

"After reviewing the facts and submissions by the parties, the court finds that BP has created a hybrid entity, rather than one that is fully independent of BP," Barbier wrote in his ruling.

"While BP may have delegated to Mr Feinberg and the GCCF independence in the evaluation and payment of individual claims, many other facts support a finding that the GCCF and Mr Feinberg are not completely 'neutral' or independent from BP."

He said Feinberg, who oversaw a similar fund to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, "is not a true third-party neutral such as a mediator, arbitrator or court-appointed special master."

The BP disaster, which began April 20, 2010 with a deadly blast aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, sullied hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline from Texas to Florida, killing wildlife and devastating key local industries such as tourism and fishing.

Some 205 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf in the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Over 88,000 square miles (229,000 square kilometers) were once closed to fishing due to concerns over the devastating spill, which continues to impact the Gulf's environment and economy.

Most of the region has been reopened to fishing activities.



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