Trial begins for BP over Gulf oil spill

BP's bill, decided by the court, could be as low as $5 billion or as high as $17.5 billion

Topics: BP, Gulf Oil Spill, Big Oil, Deepwater Horizon, Environment,

Trial begins for BP over Gulf oil spill (Credit: Wikimedia/US Coast Guard)

After BP this weekend rejected a government offer to pay $16 billion to settle civil claims over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Monday saw the beginning of trial proceedings against the oil giant.

According to the Guardian, “the trial is expected to be one of the biggest in decades. It will open with 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 teams of lawyers. Thousands of pages of exhibits have been filed, and 80 witnesses will be called. Tony Hayward, BP’s former chief executive, will appear in a videotaped deposition.” Following this, if a settlement is not reached in advance, federal Judge Carl Barbier will determine how much BP and its partners should pay for their role in the Gulf oil spill.

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Via the AP:

BP has said it already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil.

But the trial attorneys for the federal government, Gulf states and private plaintiffs hope to convince the judge that the company is liable for much more… the federal government and Gulf states haven’t resolved civil claims against the company that could be worth more than $20 billion.

The DoJ is seeking to prove that BP was “grossly negligent” — a charge that, if the judge agrees, could vastly increase the oil giant’s penalty. The maximum civil penalty possible under the Clean Water Act rises from $1,100 per barrel spilled through ordinary negligence to $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence is proved. BP’s bill could be as low as $5 billion or as high as $17.5 billion depending on whether the gross negligence charges go through.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange told the AP that witnesses scheduled to testify at trial will reveal “new information about the cause of the disaster.”

“I think you’re going to learn a lot, particularly about the culture that existed at BP and their priorities,” Strange said.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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