BP knew 2010 U.S. Gulf spill was risk, lawyers tell trial

Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:01pm EDT
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Long before the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP (BP.L: Quote) knew its Macondo well could explode and then lied about how much oil leaked, plaintiffs' lawyers said at the opening of the second phase of the company's trial on Monday.

The British oil major is fighting to hold down fines that could hit $18 billion at the trial in New Orleans, which will determine responsibilities for the worst marine pollution disaster in the United States.

"BP refused to spend any time or money preparing to stop a deepwater blowout at its source," said Brian Barr, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, which include people affected by the spill, the U.S. government and Gulf states.

"BP then made the situation worse," Barr said. "By lying about the amount of flow from the well."

In response, a lawyer for BP told the U.S. District Court that the company followed U.S. spill preparation standards.

The second phase of the trial, expected to last a month, is focused on how much oil spewed from the well and whether a series of efforts BP made to cap it over 87 days were adequate.

"BP had a response plan that was fully consistent with U.S. standards for spill preparedness," said a BP lawyer, Mike Brock. "BP did not misrepresent the flow rate in a way that caused a delay in the shut in of the well. It made reasonable decisions based on what was known at each step along the way."

In the costliest scenario the fines under the Clean Water Act could reach $17.6 billion - an amount well beyond the $42 billion BP has so far set aside for clean-up, compensation and damages.   Continued...

Preparations to drill a relief well continue at the Macondo oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico, in this aerial photograph taken from a coast guard helicopter on August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Ann Driver