OIL GIANT BP faced its first day in court over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill yesterday, in a trial that could drag on the company for up to a year and cost it billions of dollars in fines.
The trial – in New Orleans, Louisiana – could last up to a year, and will see BP, as well as rig owner Transocean and cement services provider Halliburton, pitted against the US Department of Justice, several southern US states and other plaintiffs affected by the April 2010 spill. The trial is being held before federal judge Carl J Barbier.
It is understood that last-minute efforts at a settlement fell through over the weekend. BP has always been open to a settlement, but only on “reasonable terms”, and there is a possibility that the firm could settle at any point during the lengthy trial.
The two-fold jury-less trial will first focus on who is to blame for the explosion, which killed 11 workers and spilled around 4m barrels of oil into the Gulf for almost three months.
The second stage, slated to start around September, will look at the number of barrels of oil that spilled into the sea, which will be used to determine certain civil fines.
The UK oil giant has made provisions of $42.2bn (£27.8bn) for penalties, although its bill could run higher than this if Barbier decides that BP or others were grossly negligent.
BP has always said it believes it was not grossly negligent, and has always said that it would defend itself “vigorously” against all remaining civil claims at trial.
So far, the oil giant has spent or committed $37bn on clean-up costs, restoration, payouts, settlements and fines. This includes a record $4.5bn in penalties, which BP agreed in November.