As BP’s blown-out Macondo well gushed oil in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the spring and summer of 2010, BP engineers tried repeatedly to cap the runaway well and kill the oil spill, and repeatedly they failed. Now, years later, the BP legal team’s strategies mirror that frantic effort, only instead of capping oil, its lawyers are trying to stop the financial bleeding by fighting damage claims.
The settlement that defines who is entitled to oil-spill damages and how those damages are calculated, like the Macondo well itself, is a product of BP’s design and approval. Facing the true scope of the Deepwater Horizon disaster’s impact, BP is back-pedaling and doing what it can to change the settlement terms it helped craft, including taking out ads in several national newspapers to portray itself as the victim.
On Tuesday, BP asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans to halt all settlement payments to individuals and businesses who filed claims for oil-spill related damages. The company alleges that many claims payments are excessive and even fraudulent, and that those claims are doing “irreparable harm” to the company.
Judge Barbier said that BP’s request to temporarily stop claims payments will get a hearing on Friday.
The judge refused BP’s April request to block billions of dollars in payments to businesses. The company argued that the court and claims administrator Patrick Juneau had misinterpreted the settlement terms, causing the company to spend more than it expected to resolve the claims. BP appealed the decision and had a hearing on the issue last week, but the court hasn’t indicated how long its decision would take.
BP also asked Judge Barbier for an injunction blocking payments on March 15, but the judge upheld the settlement terms in that case as well.
Some plaintiff’s lawyers suspect that BP’s objections to the settlement stem from a case of “buyer’s remorse,” exacerbated by underestimating how much the settlement would cost. The company originally figured it would pay about $7.8 billion to resolve the outstanding claims, but it exceeded that amount weeks ago and many more unresolved claims are pending.