Bloomberg News

Blame for 2010 Gulf Blast, Spill Will Be Decided by Trial Judge

September 15, 2011

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Which companies share the blame for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and will have to pay for it will be decided in a non-jury trial set to begin Feb. 27, a federal judge in New Orleans said.

BP Plc, which owned the subsea well that exploded off Louisiana in April 2010, claims Transocean Ltd, Halliburton Co., Cameron International Corp. and other contractors involved in the offshore drilling operation share responsibility for mistakes that caused the disaster.

“The trial will address all allocation of fault issues that may properly be tried to the bench without a jury,” U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said yesterday in a written order. This includes “the negligence, gross negligence, or other bases of liability of, and the proportion of liability allocable to the various defendants, third parties, and non-parties,” he said.

The Macondo blowout and the explosion that followed killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The accident and spill led to hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP and its partners and contractors. The lawsuits over economic losses and personal injuries have been combined before Barbier in New Orleans.

The lawsuits also name as defendants Transocean, the Switzerland-based owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded; Houston-based Halliburton, which provided cementing services to the well; and Cameron International, which provided blowout-prevention equipment. BP’s minority partners in the well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Mitsui & Co.’s Moex Offshore LLC unit, were also sued.

First Phase

Barbier said the first phase of the three-part trial will focus on causes of the blowout and explosion to determine which companies must share the cost of billions of dollars in economic and property damage, which BP has so far been paying alone.

In a second trial phase, Barbier will gauge companies’ liability for actions and decisions during the months it took to stop the subsea gusher. This phase will also determine how much oil and gas was spilled into the Gulf, a figure the U.S. will use to calculate any civil or criminal fines.

Barbier reserved a third phase of the trial for remaining liability issues, including claims related to efforts to contain and clean up the spill. The judge will also determine which parties, if any, bear responsibility for property damage and injuries allegedly caused by a chemical dispersant used to break up the spill.

The first test trial on damages is scheduled for July.

The case is In Re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

--With assistance from Allen Johnson Jr. in New Orleans. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Michael Hytha

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at mcfisk@bloomberg.net and; Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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