US accuses BP of "gross negligence" over Deepwater Horizon

City A.M. Reporter
The US Department of Justice is ramping up its rhetoric against BP for the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, describing in new court papers examples of what it calls “gross negligence and wilful misconduct”.

The court filing is the sharpest position yet taken by the US government as it seeks to hold the British oil giant largely responsible for the largest oil spill in US history.

Gross negligence is a central issue to the case, slated to go to trial in New Orleans in January 2013. A gross negligence finding could nearly quadruple the civil damages owed by BP under the Clean Water Act to $21 billion (£13bn).

The US government and BP are engaged in talks to settle civil and potential criminal liability, though neither side will
comment on the status of negotiations.

"The behaviour, words, and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall," government lawyers wrote in the filing on 31 August in federal court in New Orleans.

The filing comes more than two years after the disaster that struck on 20 April 2010 when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig as it was drilling the mile-deep Macondo 252 well off Louisiana's coast. The rig sank two days later.