BP and Others Face Billions in Penalties
Nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the trial is underway to determine exactly who is responsible for the disaster, and how much that responsibility will cost. The defendants are BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. Attorney Brent Coons has handled many cases stemming from the spill and is watching this trial closely. He tells KTRH that there is plenty of responsibility to go around. "BP owned the oil concession for drilling this oil, Transocean was the rig owner, and Halliburton made the cement that was to plug the well," he explains. Nevertheless, BP has been the big name attached to the disaster, and if Monday's opening arguments are any indication, the other defendants want to keep it that way. "To no surprise, most of the parties in the case, including Halliburton and Transocean, are trying to point the fingers at BP," says Coons.
The plaintiffs in this case are the U.S. Justice Department, several Gulf states, and other people and businesses directly harmed by the spill. Ultimately, the judge will decide how much responsibility each company bears for the spill and its aftermath. "Various companies had something to do with causing this," says Coons. "And that's what you call apportionment, a judge can come back at the end of the day and assign percentages of fault to each of these companies for some of the wrongdoing." However, that is only the first half of the trial. The judge will also have to determine just how much oil actually leaked into the Gulf. "This part of the trial will include the government's charges against BP for the amount of oil that was spilled," says Coons. That's because BP has argued that the government's estimate of the amount of oil spilled is inflated by at least 20%.
The trial is expected to take several months, but it's just the latest step in a litany of litigation stemming from the oil spill. BP has already agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties to settle a criminal manslaughter charge with the Justice Department, and the company agreed to pay an estimated $8.5 billion to settle claims brought by Gulf Coast residents and businesses who were financially hurt by the spill. But if plaintiffs are successful in getting the judge to decide BP was guilty of gross negligence, the company could be facing penalties for nearly $18 billion more.