U.S. judge upholds BP 'gross negligence' Gulf spill ruling

Thu Nov 13, 2014 8:15pm EST
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge weighing how much BP Plc should be punished for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill on Thursday refused to overturn his own finding that the oil company's conduct was "grossly negligent."

The decision by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans means BP could still face close to $18 billion of penalties for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

It marks the latest setback in BP's effort to curb costs from the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which led to 11 deaths and the largest U.S. offshore oil spill. The trial is expected to resume in January.

Barbier had on Sept. 4 ruled that BP committed gross negligence and was 67 percent at fault for the spill.

The gross negligence finding roughly quadrupled the maximum civil penalty that BP could face under the Clean Water Act.

BP later argued that this ruling relied on inadmissible testimony from an expert for Halliburton Co, which provided cementing work at the spill site.

But the judge disagreed, saying BP "opened the door to this testimony" through a cross-examination of the expert.

"BP's assertions that it was 'unfairly surprised' and 'prejudiced' by the court's reliance on this testimony lack any basis in fact or law," Barbier wrote in an 11-page order. "Rather, it seems BP was a 'victim' of its own trial strategy."   Continued...

Storm clouds form near a BP station in Alexandria, Virginia July 19, 2010.   REUTERS/Molly Riley