BP oil spill trial opens with scathing attack

Feb 25, 2013 by Heather Miller
Activists protest today outside the building where the BP trial began in New Orleans, Louisiana. The blockbuster oil spill trial opened with a scathing attack on the poor safety standards which led to the worst environmental disaster in US history.

The blockbuster BP oil spill trial opened Monday with a scathing attack on the poor safety standards which led to the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Billions are at stake in the New Orleans courtroom where a is tasked with determining how much BP and its subcontractors should pay for the devastating spill.

US prosecutors are determined to prove that gross negligence caused the April 20, 2010 blast that killed 11 workers and sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, sending millions of barrels of oil gushing into the sea.

BP is equally determined to avoid a finding of gross negligence, which would drastically increase its environmental fines to as much as $17 billion.

BP is also hoping to shift much of the blame—and cost—to rig operator and subcontractor Halliburton, which was responsible for the runaway well's faulty cement job.

Transocean's poor safety record was the focus of the first lawyer to speak, Jim Roy of the plaintiffs steering committee which represents thousands of individuals and business impacted by the spill.

Roy told the court that the Swiss giant's top safety official on the multimillion dollar rig "was not even minimally competent for this job."

"His training consisted of a three-day course. Amazingly, he had never been aboard the Deepwater Horizon," Roy said, noting that the blowout was the seventh major incident aboard a Transocean rig in the space of 17 months.

It took 87 days to cap BP's runaway well, which blackened beaches in five states and crippled the region's tourism and fishing industries in a tragedy that riveted the nation.

The British energy giant has already resolved thousands of lawsuits linked to the deadly disaster out of court, including a record $4.5 billion plea deal with the US government in which BP pleaded guilty to and a $7.8 billion settlement with people and businesses affected by the spill.

Fire boats battle the blazing remnants of the BP operated off shore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf of Mexico, April 21, 2010. Billions of dollars will be at stake Monday at the opening of a complex trial to determine how much BP should pay for the devastating 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP spent more than $14 billion on the response and cleanup and paid another $10 billion to businesses, individuals and local governments that did not join the class action lawsuit.

It remains on the hook for billions in additional damages, including the cost of environmental rehabilitation.

The first phase of the civil trial at the federal courthouse in New Orleans will determine the cause and apportion fault for the disaster.

The second phase, not expected to start for several months, will determine exactly how much oil was spilled in order to calculate environmental fines.

The US government on Tuesday agreed not to count the 810,000 barrels of oil BP siphoned out of the runaway well before it could spill into the sea.

But a complicated battle looms over the rest, as BP insists the government overestimated how much oil gushed out of the well by "at least 20 percent."

The third phase will deal with environmental and economic damages.

"It's a very complex piece of litigation," said Ed Sherman, a Tulane Law professor who has closely monitored the case.

While the $7.8 billion settlement reached last year resolved most of the economic and medical claims, scores more remain from insurers, racetracks, casinos, financial institutions and state and local governments.

Workers hired by BP clean oil off the beach in a contaminated area on June 12, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. The British energy giant has already resolved thousands of lawsuits linked to the deadly disaster out of court, including a record $4.5 billion plea deal with the US government in which BP pleaded guilty to criminal charges and a $7.8 billion settlement.

Despite BP's avowal to "vigorously" defend itself against the gross negligence charge, many experts believe it could still reach an out-of-court settlement with the US government over environmental fines.

"BP cannot let this case proceed to judgment because the liability exposure is too great and the facts are squarely against them," Loyola University Law School professor Blaine LeCesne told AFP.

"Even if settlement isn't reached before trial it can still happen once the trial is under way."

Protesters camped outside the courthouse said they hope that Judge Carl Barbier will assess the maximum penalties possible under the law.

"This is not just about something that's going to take decades to clean up," said Chris Canfield, vice president of Gulf of Mexico conservation and restoration for the National Audubon Society.

"This is about making sure that bad actors are punished for a series of decisions that put profits ahead of people and the environment."

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BSD
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 25, 2013
BP as most companies, always take the cheapest bid for the contract they offered. In this case they chose Transocean who then subcontracted Halliburton. They got what they paid for. A shit job with poor safety standards. Worse, BP must have been aware of Transocean's poor safety record but used them anyway. In the end, it didn't work out very cheap for BP at all. Make them all pay.
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (6) Feb 25, 2013
If Transocean had such a poor safety record - and that record was known - then it was gross negligence on the part of BP to hire Transocean in the first place, correct?

If Transocean's safety record was not known then it was again gross negligence on the part of BP for not checking who they subcontracted to.

I can't see how BP expects to weasel out of that one. Either way makes them look incompetent.

(And yes: Transocean and Haliburton should be made to pay as well)
eachus
1 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2013
Focus on the critical path of the disaster. There was a bad cement job. Probably not due to any defect in the cement or the cementing procedure, but to methane clathrate forming on the sides of the borehole. (Methane clathrate consists of water and methane. It is stable at the temperatures in that area of the well, but the curing cement raises the temperature, with potentially explosive consequences.)

Can we fault the drill crew for not figuring out what was going on in real time? No. It took the failure of the first effort to cap the well afterwards to find the methane clathrate problem. None of it would make its way to the surface, temperature too high and they would just see methane a normal part of natural gas, and water--as if there wasn't enough around both the drilling mud and cement contained water.

To make a very long story short, the blowout preventer failed--badly. The length of the oil spill was due to the (US) government wanting to recover the BP intact.
eachus
1 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2013
The trial should really focus on whether the manufacturer of the blowout preventer, Cameron International had documented the design of the shear rams to its customers, and explained the consequences of blowouts like this one.

Huh? The shear rams could only cut the drill pipe if the pipe was sufficently centered in the bore hole. The other two BOPs in the stack would center the pipe in the bore. But that means that there would be a timing sequence needed in closing the BOPs. But in everything I have read about the blowout preventer's design it seems that the "dead man" and other emergency activations would close all of the BOPs simultaneously. The shears did not cut the pipe--and in fact were blocked open by the pipe--and the rest is history.

Was this design failure negligent? Possibly, but unlikely. Gross negligence? No way. Well, if Cameron International documented the need for a (couple of seconds) delay between doughnut and shear BOP activation, and that was ignored...
dav_daddy
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2013
It is impossible to get a read on the strength of the govt's case and of BP's potential defense(s) until more facts come out.

I agree with the author in as much as the last thing in the world BP wants is for this sucker to go to the jury.
Caliban
not rated yet Feb 25, 2013
Eachus,

The well has to be pressure-checked following the cement job. It failed the test, but told Haliburton to move along, knowing that there were problems.

BP was only interested in getting the well to produce, so that profits would flow along with all that sweet, sweet oil.

60 minutes did an interview with the investigator(a career engineering scientist) in which he detailed the entire process, pointing out the several points at which BP made the decision to proceed with production in the face of the several facts that there were equipment and safety issues that had been uncovered by SOP as the well neared "completion".

It is in four parts(including interview with one of the rig fire survivors) -here's one:

http://www.youtub...THyEEJpo

but you should watch all four.

BP was criminally negligent, and so clearly liable for damages.

Howhot
5 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2013
Make them all pay

Make them all pay

Make them all pay

Make them all pay


They killed everything in the gulf! Make them pay.
kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 26, 2013
The teabaggers, founded by the Kochs, lobbied and passed legislation to allow offshore drilling in the Gulf. Two years later America has the BP disaster. Conservatism is a mental disease which, like religion, is useful for it's handlers