April 20, 2012 will mark the two-year anniversary of Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf Coast. Although recovery efforts have been put in place, the effects of the tragic incident are far-reaching and still prominent today.
As part of Siena’s Summer Legal Fellows Program, Joey O’Rourke ’12 had the opportunity to undertake legal research alongside second and third year law students at Western New England University of Law. He studied the expanse of legal implications that have resulted since the spill. Under the direct supervision of Assistant Professor of Law at Western New England University Julie Steiner, J.D., O’Rourke had access to all the resources that students would use in law school. He demonstrated proficiency in exploring and logging a variety of different legal claims.
“Working with Professor Steiner has solidified the fact that I want to go to law school,” said O’Rourke. “It has been an honor to work with someone like Professor Steiner who shows intense passion during her research.”
Steiner was invited to campus to share the collaborative research in a presentation called, “Legal Ramifications Resulting from the Gulf Oil Spill.”
“During the summer Joey and I collated a database to find reports about cases. We collected them, organized them and tried to understand the mayhem … the losses and damages are not yet fully understood or quantified, but (are) known to be enormous,” said Steiner. She explained that while international oil and gas company British Petroleum (BP) estimates total damages to be somewhere around $42 billion, the reality is, “We have no idea how much [the incident] will cost. We may never know.”
Steiner provided an overview of the different claims that have been brought against BP and the other responsible parties. A bulk of the litigation revolves around economic damages resulting in lost income and decrease in business profits. Environmental claims have argued extensive damage to marine wildlife, contamination of fishing areas and the presence of tar balls on popular beaches. Other cases involve property damage, personal injury and even state tax loss.
Further research shed light on some indirect effects as well. For a variety of different reasons many individuals lost their jobs, homes or faced marital problems, imposing a severe emotional and economic burden on families. These are the issues, Steiner explained, that are difficult to fix through litigation.
“Professor Steiner’s research is very informative,” said Joseph Stinton ’13. “It provided information that is not shared by the media. It brought in a new perspective for me.”
It will be many years before there may be signs of a full recovery from the Gulf oil spill. The extensive damage has created an ever-growing web of legal implications for individuals all over the world. Opportunities like Siena’s Summer Legal Fellows program allows students to engage in real legal research, taking the initiative to begin making sense of the turmoil while learning about the legal process.