"Chaos, paranoia and insanity" at Deepwater Horizon

The prosecution makes strong claims about BP gross negligence in first day of trial

Published February 26, 2013 1:40PM (EST)

          (Wikimedia/US coast guard)
(Wikimedia/US coast guard)

The Department of Justice opened trial arguments against BP Monday -- claiming gross negligence and "willful misconduct" over the Gulf oil spill -- with some damning reports.

According to the Guardian, the prosecution told the New Orleans court that "the man in charge of BP's ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig warned his boss that staff were operating in 'chaos, paranoia and insanity' just days before a fatal blowout killed 11 men and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history."

"Not only was it within BP's power to prevent the tragedy, it was its responsibility," said Mike Underhill, a U.S. Justice Department trial attorney.

BP has long denied gross negligence -- and little wonder: as Salon noted Monday, a gross negligence ruling could vastly increase the oil giant’s penalty. However, it is likely that a settlement will be reached outside the court room before a verdict is reached -- BP's bill could be as low as $5 billion or as high as $17.5 billion.

This first stage of the huge trial (which will include over 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 teams of lawyers) aims to determine how much each company involved in Deepwater Horizon's running is to blame and their degree of negligence. BP is expected to point fingers at Transocean, the rig's owner, and contractors Halliburton to share the blame.

On Monday afternoon, attorney Mike Brock defended BP against the government claims. According to the Guardian, "he said drilling was a 'team sport' and that BP had chosen the best partners. He argued that the evidence showed BP was not "grossly negligent". Mistakes had been made and the rig's operators were collectively responsible."


BP On Trial

By 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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Aol_on Big Oil Bp Bp Trial Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill New Orleans