BP Goes to Court Today

Trial on worst offshore spill in U.S. history

Joe Spring

Roughly three years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP and other companies involved in the spill are scheduled to go to court today. Reports of a last-minute settlement between the government and BP surfaced over the weekend, but no deal has yet been made.

BP, which has already paid a reported $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements, and fines, faces the prospect of billions to tens of billions of dollar more in penalties. The New York Times reported on Sunday that federal and state governments had an offer of $16 billion on the table.

The plan, worth a total of $16 billion, would limit the fines paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to $6 billion, a proposal that could help reduce its tax liability, said one person briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

BP would also pay $9 billion in penalties to cover damages to natural resources as well as the cost of restoration, that person said. The remaining $1 billion would be set aside in a fund that could be tapped if unanticipated environmental damages related to the spill developed.

No one at BP, the Justice Department, or the states involved has commented on any settlement proposal, but several lawyers briefed on the negotiations said that a $16 billion proposal had been made. The affected states are Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, although only Alabama and Louisiana are participating in the trial.

If the case goes to trail and plaintiffs show gross negligence on the part of BP and other companies, high punitive damages could be demanded. For example, potential fines for violating the Clean Water Act could reach $17.6 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. NPR has a four-minute summary of what’s at stake in the trial.

The explosion on the rig killed 11 men and allowed roughly four million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists are still working to uncover the full environmental effects of the disaster.

To follow along with the trial and BP’s role in the spill, check out The New York Times page on BP. To read an account filed from the Gulf of Mexico months after the spill, read “The Gumbo Chronicles.”