BP spars with U.S. government over size of Gulf of Mexico spill

Tue Oct 8, 2013 8:28am EDT
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Lawyers for BP Plc (BP.L: Quote) and the federal government sparred on Monday over the methods competing teams of scientists used to estimate the size of the company's 2010 oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will use evidence presented during the next 12 days of trial to determine the total amount of oil that gushed into the Gulf for 87 days after the Macondo well blew out. Potential fines under the Clean Water Act could top $17 billion, an amount close to BP's annualized profits as of last quarter.

The disaster left 11 men dead and huge stretches of sea and coast fouled with oil.

The government told the court that some 4.9 million barrels spilled. BP has estimated just 3.26 million barrels escaped into the sea. Both sides acknowledged that 810,000 barrels of oil collected in cleanup will be excluded from the final amount.

Arriving at a consensus estimate is difficult as Macondo was an exploration well, unlike a production well that would normally have highly accurate gauges measuring flow rates for oil.

The government believes oil flowed from the well at a rate of about 62,000 barrels a day shortly after the explosion and "waned down to 53,000 toward the end," a Justice Department lawyer said in court.

In his opening statement for the government, attorney Steve O'Rourke likened the spill to an Exxon Valdez-type spill occurring about every 4.5 days for the duration of the spill.

The Valdez tanker is widely regarded as having carried 260,000 barrels during a mishap in 1989 in Alaska.   Continued...

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this handout photograph taken on April 21, 2010 and obtained on April 22. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout