No agreement in sight makes BP oil spill trial seem inevitable

BP 435x292 No agreement in sight makes BP oil spill trial seem inevitableWith no agreement in sight, BP officials acknowledged Tuesday that it appears the company is headed court to defend itself against civil claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Of primary concern to BP is the federal government’s charge that the company acted with “gross negligence” in causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. BP says it is prepared to defend itself vigorously against those allegations, which the company’s counsel considers to be overly harsh.

“Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case,” general counsel Rupert Bondy said. “This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent.”

The trial, set to begin February 25 in New Orleans, will establish blame for the oil disaster among BP and its partners in percentages. Civil fines will be determined based on those percentages and whether the court determines gross negligence played a role in the spill, among other factors. Several billions of dollars pivot on those determinations.

Investigations conducted by the U.S. government of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers and released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, pointed a finger at measures designed by BP and its partners to cut costs and save time.

BP’s reluctance to settle the charges comes as a surprise to many legal analysts and industry experts, who have claimed an agreement would be in the oil giant’s best interests.

“The proceedings will necessarily slog through all the gory details of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, forcing those of us who follow the oil industry to suffer flashbacks of the horrific explosion, oil-soaked beaches and those endless hours keeping half an eye on the submarine video feed of oil gushing from the Macondo well,” Forbes writer Christopher Helman said in a recent column.

“Please don’t do this to us BP,” he added. “Please settle this case with the feds and the states and everybody else so we don’t have to waste hundreds more hours and write dozens of articles recounting BP’s safety disasters and engineering screw ups.”

But a long drawn-out trial rather than a closed-door settlement could be what Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi need most as they continue to cope with the environmental and economic aftermath of the giant spill. BP has been hard at work and spending millions of dollars to persuade Americans that the Gulf Coast has been cleaned up and is ready for business while decades of environmental rehabilitation and coastal restoration lie ahead.