The tort lawyer and the BP oil disaster

Daniel Becnel Jr., speed dialing over a speaker phone, places a call to a lawyer for a defendant in the British Petroleum-Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.

“This is the king of torts calling,” he says when he reaches the attorney’s executive assistant.

“Oh,” she says. “Then it must be Danny Becnel.”

Becnel, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses, nods appreciatively from his mahogany desk strewn with an impressive pile of legal papers. It’s from here, in a French colonial-style office in Reserve, La., population 10,000, that he orchestrated the filing of the first federal lawsuit eight days after the Apr. 20 blowout, and where he tracks the legal squadrons gathering to sue BP and its contractors for claims that experts say could add up to a half-a-trillion dollars or more. About 110 suits have been filed so far, according to Becnel, and dozens more appear to be on the way.

BP spill clouds future of U.S. oil drilling

Daniel Becnel Jr., speed dialing over a speaker phone, places a call to a lawyer for a defendant in the British Petroleum-Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.

“This is the king of torts calling,” he says when he reaches the attorney’s executive assistant.

“Oh,” she says. “Then it must be Danny Becnel.”

Becnel, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses, nods appreciatively from his mahogany desk strewn with an impressive pile of legal papers. It’s from here, in a French colonial-style office in Reserve, La., population 10,000, that he orchestrated the filing of the first federal lawsuit eight days after the Apr. 20 blowout, and where he tracks the legal squadrons gathering to sue BP and its contractors for claims that experts say could add up to a half-a-trillion dollars or more. About 110 suits have been filed so far, according to Becnel, and dozens more appear to be on the way.

As oil gushes out, damage claims pour in

Even as oil continues to gush out of the damaged Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, everyone from Louisiana fisherman to Florida condo owners are already beginning to vie for compensation from oil company BP.

Experts say it could take decades to sort out the claims, and BP executives acknowledge the company will have to spend more than the $75 million cap on that type of liability payment, which was set by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

“We believe it is inevitable we will spend more than the OPA suggests settling claims and are willing to do that,” BP spokesman Mark Salt told msnbc.com Monday.

Contrite BP ads aren’t earning much sympathy

MIAMI — An apologetic advertising campaign by BP PLC for the oil spill polluting the Gulf of Mexico is going over about as well as the tar balls and rust-colored froth washing ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

The new radio, TV, online and print ads feature BP CEO Tony Hayward pledging to fix the damage caused by an undersea gusher of crude oil unleashed by an April 20 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people.

The company will honor financial claims and “do everything we can so this never happens again,” he says in the spots.

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don’t thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

“Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you’ve got to do is do your job, and that’s going to be plenty of good advertising,” said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Florida, Commission, referring to BP’s efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

BP’s Hayward says spill won’t make him quit

MIAMI — An apologetic advertising campaign by BP PLC for the oil spill polluting the Gulf of Mexico is going over about as well as the tar balls and rust-colored froth washing ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

The new radio, TV, online and print ads feature BP CEO Tony Hayward pledging to fix the damage caused by an undersea gusher of crude oil unleashed by an April 20 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people.

The company will honor financial claims and “do everything we can so this never happens again,” he says in the spots.

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don’t thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

“Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you’ve got to do is do your job, and that’s going to be plenty of good advertising,” said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Florida, Commission, referring to BP’s efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

Gas prices are leveling off after 20-cent drop

MIAMI — An apologetic advertising campaign by BP PLC for the oil spill polluting the Gulf of Mexico is going over about as well as the tar balls and rust-colored froth washing ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

The new radio, TV, online and print ads feature BP CEO Tony Hayward pledging to fix the damage caused by an undersea gusher of crude oil unleashed by an April 20 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people.

The company will honor financial claims and “do everything we can so this never happens again,” he says in the spots.

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don’t thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

“Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you’ve got to do is do your job, and that’s going to be plenty of good advertising,” said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Florida, Commission, referring to BP’s efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

US drivers will find cheaper gas

NEW YORK — Gasoline prices have tumbled almost every day this month, dropping Friday to a national average of $2.749 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

A gallon of regular unleaded is 12 cents cheaper than it was a month ago, 8 cents cheaper than just a week ago. The timing couldn’t be better for holiday travelers.

AAA says 1.6 million more Americans will hit the highways this weekend than last Memorial Day, but the travel club expects them to spend less than last year.

Gasoline is cheaper in part because of a plunge in oil prices. Crude’s fallen more than 15 percent since it hit an 18-month high of $87.15 on May 3.

Crude prices dropped again on Friday, as stock markets retreated from Thursday’s big gains on new worries about Europe. Rating agency Fitch downgraded Spain’s debt. The euro fell and the dollar gained strength. Oil is traded in U.S. currency, and a stronger dollar makes it more expensive to buy with foreign currency.

BP likely rich enough to survive cost of spill

NEW YORK — BP is probably sturdy enough to survive the worst oil spill in U.S. history. But investors are shaving billions of dollars off its value with every day that crude gushes into the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday alone, the first trading day since BP’s latest attempt at a fix failed, and the day the government announced it had opened a criminal probe into the disaster, its stock took a hit of 15 percent.

The British oil giant is worth $75 billion less on the open market than it was when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded six weeks ago. Other companies involved in the spill — Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron — have all lost at least 30 percent in value.

And as oil seeps unchecked into the Gulf, nearby states, businesses, environmental regulators and injured workers and cleanup crews are eyeing damages that could total billions more.

Newsweek: Why the regulators can't regulate

The reason you can’t give regulators (of Wall Street or Big Oil) too much ‘discretion’ is that they’ll always be outsmarted by the private sector. That’s why standards have to be spelled out in the law.

A common thread runs through the two biggest crises of our present era: the financial catastrophe of 2007–09 and the ongoing gulf oil spill, which now ranks as the worst in U.S. history. People who work for private companies—particularly those in high flying, high-tech industries like Wall Street and Big Oil—tend to outsmart the people in government who are supposed to be watching them. In the case of Wall Street, we now know that an entire generation of regulators was bamboozled by Street whizzes who sold them on everything from the irrelevance of Glass-Steagall to the low-risk benefits of unmonitored derivatives trades. The major oil companies, if anything, did an even better job of fooling one and all in Washington that they knew what they were doing with deepwater drilling. “We were sold a bill of goods by BP and other oil companies going back several administrations,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who has vociferously resisted Barack Obama’s efforts to expand offshore drilling. “During the whole time I’ve been in Congress, the big oil companies have been telling us they can drill as deep as they want without risk.”

Obama: Reliance on fossil fuel must end

WASHINGTON — Seizing on a disastrous oil spill to advance a cause, President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Congress to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil and pass a clean-energy bill that he says would help the nation end its dependence on fossil fuels.

Obama predicted that he would find the political support for legislation that would dramatically alter the way Americans fuel their homes and cars, including placing a price on carbon pollution, even though such legislation is politically divisive and remains bogged in the Senate.

“The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,” Obama told an audience at Carnegie Mellon University. “I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can, and I will work with anyone to get this done. And we will get it done.”