Sea Shepherd's new chief of investigations and intelligence, Scott West has given the following interview with the Wall Street Journal.

spacer_black

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122706017166039657.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

NOVEMBER 18, 2008, 9:07 P.M. ET

Ex-EPA Official Faults Probe of BP Alaska Oil Spill.

The Environmental Protection Agency in early 2007 considered seeking penalties of as much as $672 million and possible felony charges against BP for the 2006 spills, depending on what the probe uncovered, the former EPA official and EPA agree. The possible fine was based on variables such as how much money BP saved by not performing pipeline maintenance.

BP admitted in October 2007 to the lack of maintenance in a plea agreement to a lesser misdemeanor charge. It agreed in federal court in Alaska to plead guilty to the misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, to be fined $20 million and to serve three years probation.

Scott West, a former special agent-in-charge of the EPA's criminal-investigation division in Seattle who supervised a team of investigators, said he needed as much as another year to determine if, in fact, "there was sufficient evidence to charge BP with a felony." Mr. West said his agents still had large volumes of evidence to go through to make that determination.

It isn't clear whether Mr. West's investigation would have yielded enough evidence to charge BP with a felony, had he been allowed to continue. Moreover, the EPA wouldn't necessarily have been able to secure the damages from BP, even if it had obtained a verdict against the company in a trial.

Nelson Cohen, the U.S. attorney for Alaska, said that opting for the $20 million fine was "a judgment call" his office made. "It's not my job to take every nickel from a defendant when they have done something wrong," he said. "Our job is to come up with what we feel is fair and just." EPA officials say they agree with the final resolution of the case. EPA officials say the $20 million was among the highest fines ever won under the Clean Water Act.

In response to a summary of Mr. West's complaints provided to BP by The Wall Street Journal, BP said in a statement that the EPA and Justice Department "received BP's full cooperation in their Alaska investigation." BP added: "We read with interest that after a 17-month investigation, West and other investigators could not 'realistically charge' BP with a felony."

Mr. West, who retired from the EPA on Oct. 29 and has now gone to work as lead investigator for environmental group Sea Shepherd, was looking into two pipeline spills at BP's Prudhoe Bay facilities in Alaska in 2006. He says the probe ended after Ronald Tenpas, a career prosecutor for the Justice Department, was appointed assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources in May 2007.

Mr. West says that in August 2007, at a meeting of federal officials on the case in Anchorage, a prosecutor asked whether he had enough evidence to charge BP with a felony. Mr. West says he didn't at that point, but needed another year or so to go through the evidence that EPA and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had gathered. While he was given 17 months to investigate after the March 2006 spill, Mr. West says such probes typically take two to four years, and other federal law-enforcement officials confirm that.

Mr. West alleges that prosecutors told him it wasn't in the government's interest to continue the investigation if it could settle with BP on a misdemeanor. Following the meeting, Mr. West says, Karen Loeffler, the criminal chief in the U.S. attorney's office, told him "the decision to settle now was made by Ron Tenpas."

Mr. Cohen, speaking on Ms. Loeffler's behalf, says she "flatly denies" making that statement. He adds that his office acted independently in resolving the case. "I was never pressured in any way, shape or form in how to handle the case," Mr. Cohen says.

Mr. Tenpas, who supervises environmental cases from Washington, said he was kept apprised of the investigation, but "I vehemently disagree and deny" that he ended it. "It was a decision I concurred with, but the decision was not mine," Mr. Tenpas said.

A Justice Department spokesman said the decision was made by Mr. Cohen, after consultation with prosecutors in both Alaska and Washington who were assigned the case.

Mr. West says his inquiry began in July 2005 -- before the actual spills -- after some BP engineers told him that a pipe rupture and leaks were inevitable, and that their warnings had been repeatedly ignored. The engineers were steered to him by Charles Hamel, a former oil-tanker broker who serves as a conduit for oilfield workers' complaints in Alaska. In March 2006, a corroded line broke, spilling about 200,000 gallons of crude on the tundra. In August 2006, a spill of about 1,000 gallons took place at another corroded line nearby. No injuries resulted from either spill. BP, which in its plea agreement admitted to negligence in not preventing corrosion on oil-transit lines at Prudhoe Bay, then ordered almost the entire field shut down to repair corroded pipes. The company has said it replaced miles of the lines at the field.

The EPA probe kicked into high gear after the spills, with as many as a dozen criminal investigators from the agency, the FBI and the state of Alaska, Mr. West says. He says there was an effort early on among EPA officials to look at possible illegal behavior, based on what he described as worker complaints that management repeatedly ignored warnings that the corrosion problem needed to be addressed. EPA officials said last week that such behavior was never proven. BP said that "we have no record that any concerns about corrosion leading to an oil transit-line breach...were communicated to BP by BP Alaska workers."

At the Anchorage meeting of investigators in August 2007, Mr. West says he asked for a year's more time, then six months and finally three months, when he was told by officials of the U.S. attorney's office that there was no reason to continue the probe. "He had more theories on what he wanted to pursue, but those already had been pursued," Mr. Cohen says.

A person familiar with the investigation said Mr. West's team still had a lot of work to do before they could determine whether the case warranted any felony charge. For example, this person said, investigators hadn't interviewed a number of people at BP who had knowledge of the company's corrosion program in Alaska.

Mr. West says Mr. Cohen's own prosecutors had been discussing the case as a potential felony, depending on what the evidence turned up. A Justice Department spokesman said the agency does not comment on what prosecutors discuss internally.

On Oct. 15, 2007, Mr. West says, he attended a settlement meeting with BP lawyers at the U.S. attorney's office in which Mr. Cohen offered to settle the case for a $20 million fine. An EPA analysis two weeks earlier proposed two options of $58.5 million or $89.8 million in the misdemeanor case. EPA officials confirm the calculations were made. Mr. Cohen said they "discussed what a proper penalty should be. This is what we decided was a fair and just result."

BP said in its statement that it "admitted that its processes and systems for monitoring Prudhoe Bay oil-transit lines were inadequate," and "that negligence on the company's part resulted in the March 2006 spill."

Write to Jim Carlton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sea Shepherd
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
This week the crew of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The Farley Mowat and The Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass net from the critically endangered vaquita marina's habitat Watch all episodes at: http://www.seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia/videos.html ‪#‎OpMilag...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Actor Gregg Lowe crews with Sea Shepherd to help us protect the vaquita. The M/V Farley Mowat lights up the vaquita refuge and deters poacher from laying deadly nets in the vaquita marina's habitat. Watch all episodes at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
The first video of our new series "Sea Shepherd Wildlife". This episode is about one of the lesser know large dolphins - The False Killer Whales. Learn more about these beautiful creatures with the Sea Shepherd crew. Share it with your friends. Video by Carolina A. Castro Narration by Nicole D'Entr...
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 05 - Gillnet Damage
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 05 - Gillnet Damage
Join the crew of the R/V Martin Sheen as they witness the damage a gillnet can cause to marine wildlife while patrolling the endangered vaquita's refuge in Mexico.