BP, contractors start trial for worst U.S. offshore spill

Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:14pm EST
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By Kristen Hays

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A long-awaited trial over the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill began on Monday, with governments, businesses and individuals blaming BP Plc mostly for the 2010 disaster that killed 11 rig workers and spilled 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Not only was it within BP's power to prevent the tragedy, it was its responsibility," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Underhill said at the trial over legal culpability for the blowout and spill.

The trial is being held with no jury before Judge Carl Barbier at federal court in New Orleans.

Lawyers for other plaintiffs also slammed BP executives, as did attorneys for two of the well owner's co-defendants, rig owner Transocean Ltd and cement services provider Halliburton Co. BP lawyer Mike Brock said the blame was shared by all three companies.

BP must show that its mistakes do not meet the legal definition of gross negligence required for the highest amount of damages. BP has already spent or committed $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements and fines.

Beyond that, liabilities could stretch into the tens of billions of dollars if Barbier determines BP or the other defendants were grossly negligent. Oil came ashore from Texas to Florida, threatening livelihoods and state economies dependent on seafood and tourism, so the list of plaintiffs is long.

Most observers expect the case to be settled before the trial results in a verdict.

Underhill said that less than an hour before BP's long-troublesome Macondo well ruptured and caused an explosion, BP's top well site leader on the rig called an engineer in Houston to discuss a critical pressure test that indicated problems.   Continued...

A BP logo is seen in front of an apartment block near a petrol station in Moscow October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov