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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness