Money mattered more to BP than the people who died, Deepwater Horizon spill trial told

As oil company finally comes to trial over rig disaster, $16bn settlement talks are intensifying

New Orleans

Nearly three years on from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was yesterday accused being “blinded” by its bottom line with a corporate culture where “money mattered more than the environment”.

The claim, made in an opening statement before a packed New Orleans courtroom by Luther Strange, attorney general of the spill-ravaged state of Alabama, came as the company was finally put on trial over the disaster. The government and private plaintiffs are suing the oil giant and its partners, and the case wraps together numerous claims and counter-claims.

"The evidence will show that, at BP, money mattered most," Mr Strange said. "Money even mattered more than the lives of the 11 workers who died on the [Deepwater] Horizon rig. Money mattered more to BP than the Gulf. A lot more." Earlier, even as settlement talks were said to be intensifying in the background, a battery of lawyers filed into Judge Carl Barbier's courtroom. On one side, there was the team representing BP and the other companies involved in the spill, including the rig owner Transocean. Then there were lawyers for the private plaintiffs, the US government and the worst-affected states.

Mr Strange's counterpart from Louisiana, attorney general James 'Buddy' Caldwell, was among those in attendance.

As they queued to enter the court building on Poydras Street, a small group of protesters stood by the steps, with placards calling for BP to be held to account for the disaster that spewed millions of barrels of oil into Gulf.

Inside, Judge Barbier, a Maritime law expert who will be hearing the case without a jury, began the proceedings by warning that BP, its partners and the plaintiffs faced a "lengthy trial" which would unfold in distinct phases. The first phase, which began yesterday with opening statements for the both sides, is expected to last for three months, and will determine whether BP or its partners were "grossly negligent" in relation to the incident aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that led to the spill and the deaths of 11 workers. Such a finding against the oil giant could potentially land it with fines of more than $17bn under the US Clean Water Act.

The second phase will turn to the flow rate of the oil from BP's Macondo well below the Deepwater Horizon rig. A third phase, expected to follow next year, will focus on potential damages.

The first day of the trial was taken up with opening statements from the parties. Jim Roy, a lawyer representing the private plaintiffs in the case, kicked off by first attacking Transocean for its failure to adequately train its personnel, and later on BP, accusing it's London-based executives of prioritising cost-cutting and oil production over safety in the run up to the spill.

BP, which has spent more than $24bn on spill-related costs so far, in its opening statement rejected the claim of gross negligence.

Number crunching

BP last year said it expected to spend more than $1.7bn on legal costs related to the spill. It has armed itself with some of the biggest names in the private sector, including Robert Brock from Covington & Burling, who has a record of defending pharma giants.

So far, BP has paid $24bn in spill-related expenses and expects to pay in excess of $42bn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea