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BP Trial's First Week Offers Glimpse of Long Fight

Source: USA Today

Posted on 04 Mar 2013 by Neilson

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BP trialTestimony from current and former executives. Gulf Coast residents and the U.S. government pitted against some of the biggest companies in the world. Tens of billions of dollars at stake.

The first week of one of the largest environmental trials in U.S. history drew to a close Thursday after three days of dissecting testimony examining the causes behind the 2010 BP oil spill. The three-month first phase of the civil trial will determine the share of liability of BP and other companies for the 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf, and could bring more than $20 billion in federal fines and settlements to those affected by the spill.

"This will be the most significant trial ever brought under environmental laws," said David Uhlmann, an University of Michigan environmental law professor and former chief of the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section. "The amount of money involved and the significance of the Gulf oil spill make this an unprecedented trial."

So far, plaintiff's attorneys have used documents, expert witnesses and BP's own executives to try to show the London-based company put profits over safety and was "grossly negligent" for the spill, which could trigger staggering per-barrel fines. BP has assumed some blame for the incident but is trying to prove other companies such as Transocean, which owned the rig, and Halliburton, which provided the cement to seal the ill-fated well were at fault as well.

On Thursday, Mark Bly, BP's executive vice president for safety and operational risk, who led the company's post-spill internal investigation, took the stand and defended the company's decision not to look into high-level policy decisions and the fact that the operation was $60 million over budget as contributing factors to the incident.

"When we started, we were tasked to getting answers as quickly as we could," Bly said. "We did have the option to try to go further, but at that point in time it would have been very difficult to do that."