Barbier’s appointment of Freeh is a victory for BP as it wages an aggressive campaign to challenge what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to Gulf Coast businesses with claims arising from the company’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The top attorneys representing plaintiffs in the spill settlement, Stephen Herman and James Roy, said in a statement: “We welcome Mr. Freeh’s appointment, and are confident that any impropriety, if confirmed, will prove to be an isolated incident.
“We continue to have full confidence in Pat Juneau, who for more than a year, has led the Court Supervised Settlement Program with the utmost integrity, competence and thoroughness.”
Juneau said in a statement “we wholeheartedly endorse the investigation by Mr. Louis Freeh. Since we initiated the Deepwater Horizon Claims Process on June 4, 2012, our mission has been to process claims in a fair, efficient and transparent manner. This type of investigation is consistent with our goal of transparency of the claims process.”
In April 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and led to millions of gallons of oil being spewed into the water. Marshes, fisheries and beaches from Louisiana to Florida were fouled by the oil until a cap was placed over the blown-out well in July 2010.
BP set up a compensation fund for individuals and businesses hurt by the spill and committed $20 billion. Juneau took over the processing of claims after the settlement was reached last year. His office has determined more than $3 billion in claims are eligible for payment through the settlement agreement.
BP argues Barbier and Juneau misinterpreted the settlement and have allowed thousands of businesses to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement payments for fictitious and inflated claims. BP appealed Barbier’s rulings on the issue. A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is scheduled to hear the case on Monday.