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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Adviser - OTE £30,000

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy