BP Trial Update, Week Seven: BP begins its defense

By Whit Remer, Environmental Defense Fund

Yesterday concluded the seventh week of trial for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The week began on Monday with the first day of BP’s formal defense as operator of the troubled oil rig. As in all legal trials, the plaintiffs presented their case first, which was followed by defense teams from Halliburton, Transocean and now BP. In the first six weeks, the federal government and other parties presented evidence demonstrating that BP officials ignored warnings that the drilling rig was having difficulty, withheld important critical safety information from the federal government and cut corners to drill faster while reducing costs — all at the expense of safety and the Gulf environment.

Activists rallied outside the courthouse on Day 1 of the BP trial.

BP kicked off its defense by calling Ted Bourgoyne, Ph.D. Dr. Bourgoyne is a petroleum engineer hired by BP for his expert opinion on Petroleum Engineering, Drilling Operations, Well Monitoring & Well Control. He testified that BP followed standard drilling procedures established by the federal government and considered normal in the industry. The company will likely continue to argue that all their drilling operations were up to the industry standard to show their actions do not justify a ruling of gross negligence. In addition to showing they followed normal procedure, BP will spend the next 3 to 4 weeks spreading blame among BP’s subcontractors.

During the first six weeks of trial, the plaintiffs and sub-contractors painted a picture of BP as the essential ringleader of the gang. By placing blame with BP and focusing on errors made both on the rig and in Houston, the plaintiffs have a better shot of recovering higher fine amounts than if liability was spread across all the oil companies. Of course, that’s good for BP’s two primary subcontractors, Halliburton and Transocean, who contend that BP as the rig operator was ultimately responsible for calling the shots and therefore should bear the brunt of the responsibility. That responsibility could mean tens of billions of dollars’ worth of fines under the Clean Water Act.

In perhaps the only silver lining resulting from the oil spill, fine money collected from the Clean Water Act is now dedicated to help restore the Gulf Coast economy and environment. Through the RESTORE Act which we supported and that became law in 2012, 80% of Clean Water Ace civil penalties will go to a newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. From there, the money will be disbursed to the five Gulf Coast States by the Department of Treasury and Gulf Coast Restoration Council. Part of the Council’s job is to fund ecosystem restoration through a comprehensive restoration plan. With so much riding on the RESTORE Act, our friends at the Tulane Institute on Water Resource Law & Policy recently released a report explaining the implications of the RESTORE Act. Check it out here.

In the meantime, we will continue to follow the BP trial and work toward restoration in the Gulf.