As expected, the Dept. of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against BP and eight other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Dec. 15 in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

A ruling against the companies could mean billions of dollars for environmental cleanup and restoration work for contractors.

In the complaint, the U.S. government alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations that caused or contributed to the oil spill.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties against eight of the firms under the Clean Water Act and damages “without limitation” under the Oil Pollution act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are: BP Exploration and Production Inc.; Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 20007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc.; and Transocean’s insurer, QBE Underwriter Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036. QBE/Lloyd’s can be held liable only up to the amount of insurance policy coverage under the Oil Pollution Act and is not being sued under the Clean Water Act. Halliburton, the firm responsible for preparing and applying the drilling mud at the wellhead, was not named in the lawsuit.

Attorney General Eric Holder says, “We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses, and environmental damages without limitation.” The Justice Dept. is continuing to move forward with a separate criminal investigation, Holder says.

In addition to the unlimited damages sought under the Oil Pollution Act, the government is seeking damages under the Clean Water Act for each barrel of oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the spill. According to the complaint, polluters are strictly liable under the CWA, with penalties based in part on the number of barrels of oil discharged into navigable waters of the United States.

In a statement, BP said, “The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit. BP will answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries.

“Alone among the parties, BP has stepped up to pay for the clean-up of the oil, setting aside $20 billion to pay all legitimate claims. We took these steps before any legal determination of responsibility and will continue to fulfill our commitments in the Gulf as the legal process unfolds.”

A spokesman from Transocean says, “The calculations, blueprints and step-by-step construction procedures for the Macondo well were crafted by BP engineers and approved by federal regulators. As contractors to BP, Transocean employees executed various steps in those plans at the instruction of BP engineers on the rig and on shore.”

He continues, "Responsibility for hydrocarbons discharged from a well lies solely with the well’s owner and operator. This fact is made clear by both the letter and spirit of the law, is reinforced in official contracts between BP and other parties � including Transocean and the U.S. Government � and was reaffirmed by BP in public statements following the incident. Transocean is indemnified in this matter.”

The lawsuit will become part of the multi-district litigation pending before Judge Barbier in federal court in New Orleans. The U.S. government was required to file by Dec. 15 in order to move forward with discovery under the timelines set in the multi-district litigation proceedings.