Recap of Day Three of BP Oil Spill Trial

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Today was the third day of testimony in the phase II of the BP trial for the massive 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Attorneys for BP began calling witnesses to support their position that the company did everything possible to stop the massive oil leak from the Macondo well. Just to recap, this phase of the trial focuses on presiding Federal District Court Judge Carl Barbier hearing testimony on BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil (Source Control) and calculate how many barrels ultimately flowed (Quantification) into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day disaster. The Source Control segment will conclude tomorrow and the Quantification segment will begin next week with the US Department of Justice offering evidence that 4.2 million barrels of oil spewed from the well.  BP alleges the total amount is closer to 2.45 million barrels.

It’s been the company’s position all along that a deepwater blowout, like the one that occurred at Macondo had never occurred and that the company had all the required precautions in place. The Aligned Parties contend that the company did have oil spill plans in place, but none of those plans had specific instructions on how to effectively control and or cap a wild well about 5,000 feet below the ocean surface. The Aligned Parties have been eager to distinguish the difference between any oil spill response plans BP had and other Source Control plans that could have dramatically cut down the response time. BP continues to argue the company had all necessary plans standard in the industry and required by the government, and that a blow out like Macondo simply had never been contemplated.

James Dupre, a BP employee who worked on one of the operations to control the well, admitted that if the company had a Source Control plan for deepwater blowouts the well likely could have been capped earlier.

Mark Mazzella, a BP employee and expert in well control took the stand late in the morning to testify his team did everything they could to shut in the well.  Mr. Mazzella’s team focused much of their time on a method known as “top kill” to stop the flow of oil.  Top kill is an operation that pumps heavy mud into the gushing well from boats floating nearly 5,000 feet above on the ocean’s surface. After the mud begins to enter the blowout preventer, engineers can pump other materials—for example, golf balls—to further clog the well.

Later in the afternoon BP called Trevor Smith to testify about all the engineering technologies being tested onshore during the disaster.

All of this testimony will be under consideration by Judge Barbier as he contemplates the efforts to stop the flow of oil when determining whether the disaster was a result of the BP’s gross negligence. Such a ruling could quadruple civil fines under the Clean Water Act.