BP accused of telling ‘outright lies’ over Gulf oil spill as it could be slapped with £11bn in fines
BP made the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill worse by telling ‘outright lies’, a New Orleans court heard at the resumption of a trial that could see the firm slapped with £11billion in environmental fines.
The second phase of the trial will examine whether BP’s response to the spill was adequate and will also fix the volume of oil deemed to have poured into the Gulf from the stricken Macondo well.
And BP came under immediate attack over allegations that it misled federal officials about how much oil was escaping and how successful its efforts to staunch the flow were likely to be
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‘BP should be held accountable for the lengthy delay caused by its fraud,’ lawyers for the plaintiffs – companies and individuals affected by the spill – wrote in pretrial submissions.
And the plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian Barr said BP told ‘outright lies’ to hide its lack of preparedness for a spill in deep water.
BP is set to point to testimony by the US government that it did not rely on the British firm’s flow estimates to approve ‘top kill’, an early but ultimately unsuccessful technique to plug the well.
The oil giant will also say that ‘top kill’ was not entirely reliant on flow rate estimates in any case, so could not have been rendered useless by any flaw with those estimates.
The plaintiffs are acting in conjunction with five US states and two contractors on the well, Transocean and Halliburton, which are both seeking to pin the blame solely on BP.
But the oil supermajor is pulling out all the stops to show that any assessment of what it could have done is what BP’s defence lawyer Mike Brock called ‘Monday morning quarterbacking at its worst’.
The phrase is a reference to the way armchair fans of American football criticise decisions made by a quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.
BP will also point to its deployment of a ‘capping stack’, the first use of such a technique, to show that its spill response was ‘extraordinary’ in that it broke new technological ground.
The second phase of the trial will also resolve the vast difference in the US government’s estimate of how much oil was spilled and BP’s own figure, with billions of dollars hanging on the outcome.
BP says 3.3million barrels of oil leaked over 86 days, while the US believes the true figure was 5million barrels, although both sides agree that 810,000 was subsequently collected during the spill response effort.
Judge Carl Barbier’s decision on the size of the spill will be the difference between the ceiling for Clean Water Act fines being fixed at £6.5billion or £11billion.