Houston and Harris County officials have been flooded with thousands of emails from BP and its employees over the past few weeks encouraging them to drop a lawsuit over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Some have speculated the emails are spam because they were all traced back to a single server in the United Arab Emirates, but BP said in a statement that it emailed 10,000 Houston-area workers the week of July 14 to let them know about the lawsuits and urge them to take action, the Houston Chronicle reported. The message included a link with a form letter they could personalize.
“To date almost 2,000 employees voluntarily opted to contact their elected officials to make their voices heard,” the statement said.
The county attorney’s office earlier this month joined Houston in filing a lawsuit against BP, Transocean, Halliburton Energy Services and others claiming the county lost $23 million in tax revenue because of the spill, caused by an explosion that killed 11 workers. The city and state filed their suits more than a year ago.
The statement by London-based BP called the allegations contained in the lawsuits “specious.”
In recent weeks, one government employee reported receiving 1,200 emails. County Attorney Vince Ryan, County Judge Ed Emmett and three of four county commissioners collectively received more than 5,000. They all appear to be form letters that say BP is a good corporate neighbor and pays millions in taxes to local governments. Some come from personal email addresses and others from BP addresses. Some people have also received handwritten letters in the mail.
Matthew Festa, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said the campaign seemed bizarre and ineffective.
“As long as they’re not contacting the judge with this stuff I don’t see anything unethical about it, but it’s certainly unusual, and it could certainly rise to the level of annoyance and be counterproductive,” he said. “I can’t imagine who thought this was a good idea.”
But City Councilman Jack Christie, who voted against filing the suit a year ago, defended the campaign. He contends the company would voluntarily donate more to the city than the city could win in a lawsuit.
“It’s just a technique to show that they have, frankly, unanimous support, that they’re strong taxpayers, that they’re good law-abiding citizens and then they get slapped in the face for easy money on a lawsuit,” Christie said.
First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said his office would not drop the lawsuit, regardless of the letters.
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