Historic Litigation wraps up on BP Oil Spill from 2010

MICHAEL DeMOCKER / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE A yard full of crosses representing “all that was was lost courtesy of BP and our Federal government” fills a front yard on Grand Isle during the oil spill disaster on Tuesday, June 1, 2010.

BP oil spill trial wraps up nearly 2 years after historic litigation began

The final phase of the main BP oil spill litigation ended Monday, nearly two years since dozens of attorneys for the federal government and BP converged on a New Orleans courtroom to begin what has become one of the most complex civil cases in the nation’s history.

BP partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp. rested its case for the penalty phase of the trial Monday. A ruling on how much the two companies will pay in pollution fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is expected in coming months, if not weeks.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who continues to oversee the sprawling oil spill litigation, adjourned the court after denying a request from BP to postpone the end of the trial. BP sought more time to look for an alternate witness after one of its experts unexpectedly fell ill last week.

Barbier thanked the attorneys present for acting “professionally and civilly” throughout the high profile trial.

“It’s been a pleasure to try these cases,” Barbier said.

Barbier must now determine how much BP Exploration & Production, the lease owner and operator of the failed Macondo well and the defendant in the case, and its partner Anadarko must pay in Clean Water Act fines. He also continues to oversee other cases on separate oil spill claims by states and other plaintiffs.

In the final phase of the trial to determine BP’s fines, which began Jan. 20, the Justice Department argued the oil giant deserves the maximum $4,300-per-barrel penalty, amounting to $13.7 billion total. Federal prosecutors also asked Barbier to fine Anadarko more than $1 billion for the spill.

BP called on a parade of witnesses to argue that its effort to cleanup the spill and pay damage claims helped minimize the impact of the disaster. BP sought a lower penalty, pointing to the more than $40 billion in existing oil spill-related costs the company already faces.

Anadarko argued it was not responsible for the oil spill and should not be forced to pay a penalty.

The civil trial started in February 2013 and was divided into three phases. The first two phases determined fault in the spill and the size of the spill, respectively. Both ended in 2013.

Separately, Barbier will continue to oversee lawsuits filed by BP and others by the states affected by the spill, including Louisiana. Other lawsuits involved claims filed by oil production and services companies that were affected by a federal drilling moratorium imposed after BP’s spill. Those cases combined amount to billions of dollars in still unresolved claims.

To wrap up the final phase over the Clean Water Act fines, Anadarko on Monday called three witnesses, including Darrell Hollek, senior vice president of the company’s deepwater drilling operations in the Americas.

Hollek testified Anadarko was “more than willing to help in any way” in the wake of the spill. He admitted Anadarko did not help BP or the U.S. Coast Guard pay for oil spill response costs. He said it was the company’s opinion that BP was fully responsible for the spill.

In addition, Daniel Sunding, a University of California – Berkeley economist, testified Monday that penalizing Anadarko for the spill would do nothing to deter future oil spills and would discourage future partnerships to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Justice Department suggested Sunding was overstating the economic impact of imposing a penalty.

Federal prosecutors noted Anadarko plays a majority owner and operator role on some Gulf of Mexico wells, while its takes a minority ownership role on others. Failing to penalize the company would send the wrong message, they said.

The penalty phase was originally scheduled to last until Feb. 4, but Barbier pressed attorneys for both sides to avoid re-hashing testimony from previous phases.

Though live testimony has concluded for the penalty phase, BP and the Justice Department will submit documents related to BP’s final expert witness over the next two weeks.

BP had asked Barbier to delay the trial anywhere from 45 to 70 days while it looked for a witness to replace economist Bruce Den Uyl.

Den Uyl was slated to testify on BP’s role in the Gulf Coast economy, but a “serious medical issue” prevented him from traveling to New Orleans, BP attorney Mike Brock said.

Barbier said he “sympathized with BP’s quandary,” but ruled the trial could not be postponed for weeks.

By Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on February 02, 2015 at 7:04 PM, updated February 02, 2015 at 7:34 PM