The Justice Department has opened civil and criminal investigations into the events that led to the continuing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday at a news conference in New Orleans.  Holder made sure to say that a serious federal investigation into the deaths of workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig would take place.

The decision to criminally investigate comes after weeks of prominent government officials asking whether false and misleading statements had been made by BP concerning its ability to respond to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

At least one BP official, rig manager Robert Kaluza, took the Fifth Amendment last week to avoid testifying at a government hearing investigating the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion.  Government officials talking openly about potential criminal prosecutions will likely lead to more BP witnesses invoking their constitutional right to remain silent.

So far, the government hearings haven’t been able to ascertain why BP officials decided to remove heavy drilling fluid (“drill mud”) from the oil well and replace it with lighter-weight seawater.  The changing out of these liquids caused the oil rig explosion, because light-weight seawater is not able prevent gas rising up and exploding.  Jimmy Harrell, an employee of the rig owner, Transocean, even ominously warned that BP’s actions could ultimately lead to the Deepwater Horizon crew relying on the rig’s blowout preventer.

BP, as the lease owner and operator of the MODU, had the final say authority over drilling decisions, and it has been said by some that Kaluza was the one who made that deadly choice to change out the fluids on the rig.  As the operator, BP’s primary objective is to drill as much as possible to make the most money.  The actual owner of the rig (in this case Transocean) would be more likely to care about the rig’s structural integrity.  Those competing objectives often lead to tense situations offshore.

On the morning of the explosion, the oil well failed its negative pressure test, in which fluid inside the well is reduced to see whether gas leaks into the well through the cement or casing.  Despite this major pressure problem, BP continued extracting mud, and the rig exploded.

The maritime lawyers of Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers  proudly represent multiple parties in the litigation related to this devastating incident.  For more information, please visit our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or contact us at [email protected].