BP vows to 'vigorously defend' itself at US oil spill trial

Feb 19, 2013 by Mira Oberman
Image provided by the US Coast Guard shows fire boat response crews fighting the blaze on the off-shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 21, 2010 near New Orleans, Louisiana. British energy giant BP vowed Tuesday to "vigorously defend" itself in court next week against US government claims for "excessive" fines in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

British energy giant BP vowed Tuesday to "vigorously defend" itself in court next week against US government claims for "excessive" fines in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

Prosecutors shot back with a warning that they will be fighting for the stiffest penalties possible at a blockbuster trial which opens Monday with tens of billions of dollars at stake.

"The United States is fully prepared for trial," Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, told AFP.

"We intend to prove that BP was grossly negligent and engaged in willful misconduct in causing the oil spill."

The mammoth trial in a New Orleans, Louisiana federal courthouse consolidates scores of remaining lawsuits stemming from the worst environmental disaster to strike the United States.

The first phase of the trial will focus on liability for the April 20, 2010 explosion that sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana.

The blast killed 11 people and unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf, blackening beaches in five states and crippling tourism and fishing industries.

It took 87 days to cap BP's runaway well in a tragedy that riveted the nation.

BP is fighting civil penalties which could amount to as much as $21 billion if gross negligence is found.

"Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case," Rupert Bondy, group general counsel at BP, said in a statement.

"This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties."

In addition to fighting the federal government over environmental fines, BP is also seeking to shift some of the liability to its subcontractors, drilling rig operator Transocean and Halliburton, which was responsible for the well's faulty cement job.

BP pleaded guilty in November to criminal charges—including felony manslaughter—and agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in criminal fines.

It reached a $7.8 billion settlement early last year that will cover the bulk of the outstanding private claims for economic loss, property damage and medical problems.

It has paid out $10 billion to businesses, individuals and local governments impacted by the spill and spent more than $14 billion on the response and cleanup.

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

But while it was willing to settle the civil charges on "reasonable terms" BP said it will not accept the US government's assertion of gross negligence, or its estimation of how much oil was spilled.

"Faced with demands that are excessive and not based on reality or the merits of the case, we are going to trial," Bondy said in the statement.

"We have confidence in our case and in the legal team representing the company and defending our interests."

In a preview of an argument that will not reach trial until the second phase begins later this year, BP said the official US government estimate that 4.9 million barrels of oil was unleashed from the runaway well was "overstated" by at least 20 percent.

"BP believes that a figure of 3.1 million barrels should be the uppermost limit of the number of barrels spilled that should be used in calculating a Clean Water Act penalty," it said.

Meanwhile, the judge overseeing the consolidated trial on Tuesday approved a $1 billion settlement for civil penalties against rig operator Transocean.

The decision came after a $400 million settlement of criminal penalties against the Swiss drilling giant was approved last week.

Transocean pleaded guilty to one criminal count of violating the Clean Water Act and agreed to pay the $400 million fine for negligence that led to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The $1 billion civil penalty is for fines related to the oil spilled into the Gulf.

It is also responsible for implementing measures to improve operational safety and emergency response capabilities at all their drilling rigs working in waters of the United States.

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dogbert
2.7 / 5 (12) Feb 19, 2013
BP pleaded guilty in November to criminal charges—including felony manslaughter—and agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in criminal fines. It reached a $7.8 billion settlement early last year that will cover the bulk of the outstanding private claims for economic loss, property damage and medical problems. It has paid out $10 billion to businesses, individuals and local governments impacted by the spill and spent more than $14 billion on the response and cleanup.


And yet the government want more money.

Money and power are the only goals our government sees anymore.
Lurker2358
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 19, 2013
i never understood the whole "criminal vs civil court" thing.

The constitution forbids double jeopardy, so how and why can people or organizations be convicted and sentenced/fined twice for the same crime?
kochevnik
3 / 5 (12) Feb 19, 2013
BP is the world's largest ecoterrorist. Should be plenty of charges that can be brought against that corporate mafia
ScooterG
2.1 / 5 (14) Feb 19, 2013
BP is the world's largest ecoterrorist. Should be plenty of charges that can be brought against that corporate mafia


You may be right, but I would have put Monsanto at the top of the list.

Argiod
2.6 / 5 (10) Feb 19, 2013
And, of course, they'll spend more money trying to avoid responsibility than they would to simply pay to clean up their mess. And we'll all pay for it at the pump next year.
dogbert
1 / 5 (7) Feb 19, 2013
Lurker2358,
The constitution forbids double jeopardy, so how and why can people or organizations be convicted and sentenced/fined twice for the same crime?


The fifth amendment concerns capital crimes:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


Civil suits are not limited by conviction of a capital crime.

The fifth amendment has been circumvented in many ways so that you can be convicted even after you are acquitted.
dav_daddy
2 / 5 (4) Feb 19, 2013
i never understood the whole "criminal vs civil court" thing.

The constitution forbids double jeopardy, so how and why can people or organizations be convicted and sentenced/fined twice for the same crime?


Double jeopardy only applies to the government prosecuting you for breaking the law.

A civil infraction has nothing to do with breaking the law as such. In very general terms it means that you owed a duty (in this case not spill oil) to some person or entity, (in this case the people, businesses, and local governments along the gulf coast.) You are held liable in a civil suit when it can be shown that you failed in living up to the duty you owed to the injured Party(s).

A criminal prosecution means you are accused of breaking the law and if found guilty you will be punished.

So I guess the real difference is one of punishment (criminal) vs repaying damages you have caused (civil).
dav_daddy
2 / 5 (4) Feb 19, 2013

The fifth amendment has been circumvented in many ways so that you can be convicted even after you are acquitted.


This has nothing to do with circumventing anything please see my answer above. Also you cannot be "convicted" of the same crime that you have been found innocent of. You can be found to be "liable" for the harm you caused to another. That has absolutely zero to do with whether or not you have broken any laws.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2013
No wonder gas prices are going up. They sure won't cut top-exec's salaries or bonuses.
dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2013
This has nothing to do with circumventing anything please see my answer above. Also you cannot be "convicted" of the same crime that you have been found innocent of.


I was not implying that in this instance the fifth amendment was circumvented. But it has been weakened in many ways.

1) For most capital crimes, the defendant is charged with multiple crimes for the single act: 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit murder, etc. that you can be acquitted on many of these and still be convicted on one or more of them.

2) The second circumvention of the fifth amendment is a direct negation of its protections. If you cannot be found guilty of the crime(s) against you, you can still be sent to jail for obstruction of justice. Martha Stewart was never convicted of a crime, but she served time in prison because she failed to confess to a crime. She was sentenced for obstruction of justice.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2013
And, of course, they'll spend more money trying to avoid responsibility than they would to simply pay to clean up their mess.

Which does make some sort of twisted sense, because if they will be fined then a precedent has been set.
If they can avoid being fined then they will avoid being fined in similar circumstances in the future (and new oil spills will occur with a high likelyhood, as the drilling platforms aren't getting any younger/safer)

So right now they'll invest more to assure almost guaranteed savings in the future. It's all a numbers game to big companies (and to the CEOs the type of product of the company they are the head of doesn't even matter)
Roland
1 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2013
Halliburton didn't use as many spacers between pipes as they wanted to. Because BP ordered it. Result: bad cement job. This could have been caught by a negative-pressure test, but BP and Transocean mis-interpreted that test. "...BP had the final say..."
http://gcaptain.c...illions/