By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times (MCT)
---- — NEW ORLEANS — Energy giant BP, behind schedule and $50 million over budget drilling a deep-water well, stressed cost-cutting over safety, causing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, attorneys said Monday as the company’s high-stakes civil trial began.
Lawyers provided a dramatic recounting of the April 20, 2010, explosion and fire 50 miles offshore that killed 11 crew members. Workers were preparing to temporarily cap the Macondo well 4,100-feet underwater when it blew up. The 30-story drilling vessel burned for two days before crumpling into the Gulf of Mexico.
The resulting spill of more than 4 million barrels of oil damaged the waters and economies of five Gulf of Mexico states. And the responsible party was BP, according to the lawyers representing the federal government, coastal states and private parties.
The long-awaited trial, which is expected to last several months, could expose BP to about $17 billion in fines for the violating the Clean Water Act. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will decide whether BP’s actions were negligent or grossly negligent, which could force higher fines on the company.
BP has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from the disaster and will pay $4 billion to settle the case, the largest environmental penalty in U.S. history.
During opening statements Monday, BP’s actions were excoriated by a succession of lawyers who said the London-based company’s corporate leaders encouraged a culture of “entrepreneurial risk-taking.”
“BP was blinded by greed,” said Luther Strange, Alabama’s attorney general. “To BP, money mattered most. Greed devastated the gulf.”
The first phase of the trial will examine the role of BP and the companies it contracted with to drill its Macondo well: Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig; Halliburt on, hired by BP to cement the well hole; and Cameron International, which manufactured the blowout preventer that failed to shut down the flow of oil during the emergency.
Also included is M-I Swaco, the company that provided the material for the cement job.