Opening arguments heard in phase two of BP oil spill trial

By Eliza Walker | Oct 1, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – An attorney representing businesses, individuals, Transocean, Halliburton and the states of Alabama and Louisiana – “the aligned parties” – outlined BP’s lack of preparedness for what is believed to be the largest oil spill in recorded history during opening arguments in the second phase of trial involving the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill resulting from the explosion of the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon rig.

The plaintiffs argue that BP spent no money on preparation for such a disaster, had no source control plans, did not adequately trained employees on how to deal with such a disaster and ignored decades of preparedness warnings. “Their ‘plan’ was to activate the oil spill response plan; they had nothing more than a plan to plan,” one of the plaintiff’s attorneys argued.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier presides in the case at the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The plaintiffs further alleged that BP repeatedly misrepresented how much oil was spilling in the gulf per day. They state that BP declared 14 separate times that 5,000 barrels per day was the “best evidence” available, while withholding and in some cases altering documents showing significantly higher figures, figures as high as 110,000 barrels per day.

The aligned parties say they will prove that because of BP’s alleged misrepresentation of the figure, an inadequate procedure was taken in an attempt to stop the spill. The first attempted method was the “top kill” procedure, which experts say is unlikely to work if the flow rate is greater than 15,000 barrels per day. The aligned parties say they plan to show that BP falsely claimed that the only possible reason for the failure of the “top kill” procedure was that the disks had ruptured.

They claim that BP withheld multiple internal documents pointing that the amount was far greater than 5,000 barrels per day. They exhibited emails showing how BP tried to keep the higher flow rate confidential, both internally and externally.

The plaintiffs claim that BP’s false diagnoses shaped recovery efforts, and delayed the capping of the well for many weeks all because they could not admit the “larger truth” that the flow rate was too great.

In his opening statement, the attorney for BP argued that the claim that BP would intentionally misrepresent the figures and therefore prolong the recovery process defies common sense.

“I can’t get my head around the idea that BP would do all this [the top kill procedure] knowing it wouldn’t work,” the attorney for BP stated.

BP claims its plan was up to the industry standard, and that it made reasonable engineering decisions based on what was known at every step.

The coming days of the trial will feature the testimonies of numerous expert witnesses regarding the technicalities of the flow rate, and the various methods attempted to stop the flow.

The second phase will not include the assessing of any actual penalties, but instead will focus on the 87-day period from April to July of 2010 in which oil was flowing.

During trial this week the source control efforts will be covered, with each side—the aligned parties and BP—given 15 hours to argue their case.

Next week, the 12-day quantification phase will begin, in which the U.S. and BP will dispute the exact amount of oil spilled. The results of this phase will help to eventually determine how much BP faces in fines, a figure which could fall anywhere between $2.7 billion, and more than $18 billion.

Barbier’s courtroom was packed, with spectators spilling into an overflow room to watch the opening statements.

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