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The civil trial of BP gets underway in New Orleans Federal Court today - and the legal wrangling continues on the dollar amount the British oil giant should pay for the April  2010 explosion and months-long oil gusher that killed 11 and rendered large swaths of the Gulf contaminated by crude and Corexit.


Early update, from the BBC:

As proceedings began, the US District Judge, Carl Barbier, was told by the first lawyer for the plaintiffs' steering committee, which represents thousands of businesses and individuals, that rig operator, Transocean, was negligent.

Jim Roy said the company's safety official on the rig had had little training: "His training consisted of a three-day course. Amazingly, he had never been aboard the Deepwater Horizon."

The first witnesses will be heard on Tuesday.

Judge Barbier will then determine whether BP's actions on the oil rig were simply negligent or grossly negligent, which would impose significantly bigger fines on the company.

BP chief executive Bob Dudley has said he firmly believes the company was not grossly negligent.

The trial could last for months, but the risks are so great for BP that it may try to reach a settlement, analysts suggest.

Details on the trial from the New York Times hint that BP is still trying to weasel out of larger fines, by attempting to restrict the figures on how much oil was actually released.
"The plan, worth a total of $16 billion, would limit the fines paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to $6 billion, a proposal that could help reduce its tax liability, said one person briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity".

"BP would also pay $9 billion in penalties to cover damages to natural resources as well as the cost of restoration, that person said. The remaining $1 billion would be set aside in a fund that could be tapped if unanticipated environmental damages related to the spill developed".

Additional info from the Wall Street Journal (sorry, behind a paywall if you don't have an account).
BP's potential Clean Water Act fines could run as high as $17.6 billion, but the company has said they would likely be less than $5 billion. The NRDA payments could also run into the billions, but they are tax deductible for BP.

"BP must be found to have been grossly negligent in its role leading up to the blowout and spill to receive the highest penalty. The company has said it wasn't grossly negligent, and prosecutors and plaintiffs have a high bar to clear to prove otherwise."

The BBC is a go-to spot for coverage, for obvious reasons; the trial will focus on negligence on the part of BP.


"The UK oil giant will be pitted against the US states that were affected by the spill and the Department of Justice. It could face a fine of up to $17.6bn - the biggest civil fine in history.

    "It comes after BP agreed in November to pay $4.5bn (£2.9bn) to settle criminal charges relating to the spill.

    "The trial will determine the causes of the spill, and assign responsibility to the parties involved, including BP, contractor Halliburton, rig operator Transocean, and Cameron, which manufactured the blowout preventer meant to stop oil leaks.

    "Later, it will determine how much oil was actually leaked, which will lead to the calculation of how much BP owes in civil fines.

    "BP faces civil fines of between $4.5bn and $17.6bn."

Stay tuned. This could either get interesting, or come to a screeching halt with a quick settlement.

Originally posted to Gulf Watchers Group on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 08:51 AM PST.

Also republished by EcoJustice.

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