BP Oil Spill Trial Resumes In New Orleans

Posted On Monday, September 30, 2013
By: James W. Kraus

he trial regarding the April 20, 2010 blow-out of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico resumed today in New Orleans before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, sitting without a jury.  The evidence in this phase of the trial will focus on the efforts of BP to plug the blown-out well, as well as the estimates of the amount of oil spilled before it was plugged.  The verdict on these issues will have a significant impact on the ultimate amount that BP will pay for violations of the Clean Water Act and damage to the environment.

As reported previously in White-Collared, BP agreed in November of 2012 to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in fines and other payments.  As part of that plea, BP agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties including a $1.26 billion criminal fine, the largest single criminal penalty in U.S. history, $2.39 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for clean-up initiatives and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.

The resumption of the trial today represents the second of three phases in a trial to determine, among other things, whether BP behaved in a “grossly negligent manner” in its operation of the Macondo well and in its efforts to plug the blow-out after it occurred.  If it is found to have been grossly negligent, BP will be held liable for as much as $21 billion under the Clean Water Act.

Judge Barbier has not yet rendered a verdict on the first phase, which focused on the conduct of BP and others prior to the blow-out, and concluded on April 17, 2013.  The second phase, beginning today, will include expert testimony regarding the amount of oil that was released from the well before it was finally sealed on July 15, 2010.  The Justice Department’s experts estimate that 176 million gallons were spilled into the Gulf, while BP is urging the Court to use an estimate of 103 million gallons in calculating any Clean Water Act fines.

This second phase is scheduled to last 12 days, with strict time requirements for the parties to present their competing claims.  The third phase, which will determine the ultimate penalty, has not yet been scheduled.